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BACKGROUND: Elevated free fatty acid (FFA) levels are known to impair aortic elastic function. In obesity, FFA levels are elevated and aortic distensibility (AD) reduced in a pattern that predominantly affects the distal aorta. Despite this, the role of FFAs in obesity-related aortic stiffness remains unclear. METHODS AND RESULTS: Using vascular MRI, we aimed to determine if (1) FFA level correlated with AD in obesity; and (2) whether elevating FFA acutely and subacutely in normal-weight subjects reproduced the distal pattern of AD change in obesity. To do this, regional AD was recorded in 35 normal-weight and 70 obese subjects and then correlated with FFA levels. When compared with normal weight, obesity was associated with reduced AD in a pattern predominantly affecting the distal aorta (ascending aorta by -22%, proximal descending aorta by -25%, and abdominal aorta by -35%; P<0.001). After controlling for age, blood pressure, and body mass index, FFA levels remained negatively correlated with abdominal AD (r=-0.43, P<0.01). In 2 further normal-weight groups, AD was recorded before and after elevation of FFA levels with intralipid infusion (by +535%, n=9) and a 5-day high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet (by +48%, n=14). CONCLUSIONS: Both intralipid infusion and a low-carbohydrate diet resulted in reduced abdominal AD (infusion -22%, diet -28%; both P<0.05), reproducing the distal pattern AD reduction seen in obesity. These findings suggest that elevated FFA impair AD in obesity and provide a potential therapeutic target to improve aortic elastic function in obesity.

Original publication




Journal article


Circ Cardiovasc Imaging

Publication Date





367 - 375


Adult, Aorta, Body Mass Index, Cohort Studies, Compliance, Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted, Diet, High-Fat, Fatty Acids, Nonesterified, Female, Humans, Male, Obesity, Vascular Stiffness