Abdominal Superficial Subcutaneous Fat: A putative distinct protective fat subdepot in type 2 diabetes

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Unlike visceral adipose tissue (VAT), the association between subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) and obesity-related morbidity is controversial. In patients with type 2 diabetes, we assessed whether this variability can be explained by a putative favorable, distinct association between abdominal superficial SAT (SSAT) (absolute amount or its proportion) and cardiometabolic parameters.


We performed abdominal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in 73 patients with diabetes (mean age 58 years, 83% were men) and cross-sectionally analyzed fat distribution at S1-L5, L5-L4, and L3-L2 levels. Patients completed food frequency questionnaires, and subgroups had 24-h ambulatory blood pressure monitoring and 24-h ambulatory electrocardiography.


Women had higher %SSAT (37 vs. 23% in men; P < 0.001) despite a similar mean waist circumference. Fasting plasma glucose (P = 0.046) and HbA1c (P = 0.006) were both lower with increased tertile of absolute SSAT. In regression models adjusted for age, waist circumference, and classes of medical treatments used in this patient population, increased %SSAT was significantly associated with decreased HbA1c (β = −0.317; P = 0.013), decreased daytime ambulatory blood pressure (β = −0.426; P = 0.008), and increased HDL cholesterol (β = 0.257; P = 0.042). In contrast, increased percent of deep SAT (DSAT) was associated with increased HbA1c (β = 0.266; P = 0.040) and poorer heart rate variability parameters (P = 0.030). Although total fat and energy intake were not correlated with fat tissue distribution, increased intake of trans fat tended to be associated with total SAT (r = 0.228; P = 0.05) and DSAT (r = 0.20; P = 0.093), but not with SSAT.


Abdominal SAT is composed of two subdepots that associate differently with cardiometabolic parameters. Higher absolute and relative distribution of fat in abdominal SSAT may signify beneficial cardiometabolic effects in patients with type 2 diabetes.

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