Can the Immune System Help Prevent Obesity?

Can the Immune System Help Prevent Obesity?

Emerging evidence suggests that immunological mechanisms underlie metabolic control of adipose tissue. Findings from a recent study published in the journal Immunity showed that certain aspects of the immune system actually play an important role to help prevent obesity.

In the study, a team of researchers led by Yair Reisner from the Department of Immunology, Weizmann Institute of Science, in Israel observed that mice lacking a particular type of immune cell developed metabolic abnormalities and gained excess weight even when they consumed a standard diet.

Findings from previous studies have shown that there are certain cells in the immune system that play a role in the fat tissue‘s release or storage of energy. Moreover, the immune system can be deregulated because of the inflammatory molecules resealed by fat cells. Some specialists actually suggest that obesity is an autoimmune, inflammatory condition.

In their study, the researchers found that the release of a toxic molecule known as perforin resulted in progressive weight gain in mice lacking certain dendritic immune cells. The mice were also found to exhibit features of metabolic syndrome. The researchers also observed that these mice had altered T immune cells in their fat tissue. Reducing these T cells prevented the mice that lacked the perforin-expressing dendritic cells from gaining weight and developing metabolic syndrome.

“Notably, mice lacking these regulatory dendritic cells were also found to be more prone to develop another form of autoimmunity with symptoms similar to those found in multiple sclerosis,” Reisner added according to a recent news release.

These findings indicate that one of the functions of the perforin-expressing dendritic cells is the removal of potentially autoimmune T cells. By doing this, there is a decrease in inflammation.

The association between inflammation and fat cells has been found in mice that consumed a high-fat diet, however, this is the first study establishing the connection in mice that were on a regular diet, simply by eliminating perforin-expressing dendritic cells. Perforin-expressing dendritic cells are important for protecting against autoimmunity and metabolic syndrome. According to the researchers, shifting the abundance of these cells in relation to other immune cells may help to prevent or treat such diseases.

“It is hard to predict how this might impact patient care, but we should initially try to find if the absence of this rare subpopulation of cells is associated with obesity, metabolic syndrome, or any autoimmune or other immune abnormalities,” Reisner said in the news release.

The researchers indicate that further studies of these regulatory cells in normal human subjects and in patients is required to establish the translational value of these findings, which could potentially lead to important therapeutic approaches.

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