Acute aerobic exercise reveals that FAHFAs distinguish the metabolomes of overweight and normal-weight runners

Alisa B. Nelson, Lisa S. Chow, David B. Stagg, Jacob R. Gillingham, Michael D. Evans, Meixia Pan, Curtis C. Hughey, Chad L. Myers, Xianlin Han, Peter A. Crawford, Patrycja Puchalska

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8 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND. Responses of the metabolome to acute aerobic exercise may predict maximum oxygen consumption (VO2max) and longer-term outcomes, including the development of diabetes and its complications. METHODS. Serum samples were collected from overweight/obese trained (OWT) and normal-weight trained (NWT) runners prior to and immediately after a supervised 90-minute treadmill run at 60% VO2max (NWT = 14, OWT = 11) in a cross-sectional study. We applied a liquid chromatography high-resolution-mass spectrometry-based untargeted metabolomics platform to evaluate the effect of acute aerobic exercise on the serum metabolome. RESULTS. NWT and OWT metabolic profiles shared increased circulating acylcarnitines and free fatty acids (FFAs) with exercise, while intermediates of adenine metabolism, inosine, and hypoxanthine were strongly correlated with body fat percentage and VO2max. Untargeted metabolomics-guided follow-up quantitative lipidomic analysis revealed that baseline levels of fatty acid esters of hydroxy fatty acids (FAHFAs) were generally diminished in the OWT group. FAHFAs negatively correlated with visceral fat mass and HOMA-IR. Strikingly, a 4-fold decrease in FAHFAs was provoked by acute aerobic running in NWT participants, an effect that negatively correlated with circulating IL-6; these effects were not observed in the OWT group. Machine learning models based on a preexercise metabolite profile that included FAHFAs, FFAs, and adenine intermediates predicted VO2max. CONCLUSION. These findings in overweight human participants and healthy controls indicate that exercise-provoked changes in FAHFAs distinguish normal-weight from overweight participants and could predict VO2max. These results support the notion that FAHFAs could modulate the inflammatory response, fuel utilization, and insulin resistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere158037
JournalJCI Insight
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 8 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by NIH DK091538, AG069781, DK098203, TR000114, UL1TR002494. We acknowledge and appreciate the subjects who participated in our study. We also thank Michael Ehrhardt for technical support. All schema were created using

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright: © 2022, Nelson et al.


  • Adenine
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Esters/analysis
  • Exercise
  • Fatty Acids/metabolism
  • Humans
  • Metabolome
  • Obesity
  • Overweight

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Clinical Study
  • Journal Article


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