The research at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston was led by Drs. Sudha Biddinger and C. Ronald Kahn.
"This is one of the first true insights into the role of the liver in the metabolic syndrome and provides guidance for future therapies," Kahn said. "Showing this connection between atherosclerosis and insulin resistance is one of the most dramatic findings I've seen in 35 years."
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of medical problems related to insulin resistance, including obesity, glucose intolerance, hypertension, lowered HDL cholesterol and elevated triglycerides. Together they are associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis -- the buildup of plaque in coronary arteries that leads to heart attack and stroke.
The researchers said their findings suggest many of the important features of metabolic syndrome have a common cause, thus challenging a joint position statement issued by the American Diabetes Association and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes that questioned the very existence of metabolic syndrome.
The research is detailed in the February issue of the journal Cell Metabolism.