The impact of adiposity on adipose tissue-resident lymphocyte activation in humans

R L Travers, A C Motta, J A Betts, A Bouloumié, D Thompson

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Background/objectives: The presence of T lymphocytes in human adipose tissue has only recently been demonstrated and relatively little is known of their potential relevance in the development of obesity-related diseases. We aimed to further characterise these cells and in particular to investigate how they interact with modestly increased levels of adiposity typical of common overweight and obesity. Subjects/methods: Subcutaneous adipose tissue and fasting blood samples were obtained from healthy males aged 35–55 years with waist circumferences in lean (<94 cm), overweight (94–102 cm) and obese (>102 cm) categories. Adipose tissue-resident CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes together with macrophages were identified by gene expression and flow cytometry. T lymphocytes were further characterised by their expression of activation markers CD25 and CD69. Adipose tissue inflammation was investigated using gene expression analysis and tissue culture. Results: Participants reflected a range of adiposity from lean to class I obesity. Expression of CD4 (T-helper cells) and CD68 (macrophage), as well as FOXP3 RNA transcripts, was elevated in subcutaneous adipose tissue with increased levels of adiposity (P<0.001, P<0.001 and P=0.018, respectively). Flow cytometry revealed significant correlations between waist circumference and levels of CD25 and CD69 expression per cell on activated adipose tissue-resident CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes (P-values ranging from 0.053 to <0.001). No such relationships were found with blood T lymphocytes. This increased T lymphocyte activation was related to increased expression and secretion of various pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines from subcutaneous whole adipose tissue explants. Conclusions: This is the first study to demonstrate that even modest levels of overweight/obesity elicit modifications in adipose tissue immune function. Our results underscore the importance of T lymphocytes during adipose tissue expansion, and the presence of potential compensatory mechanisms that may work to counteract adipose tissue inflammation, possibly through an increased number of T-regulatory cells.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)762-769
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Issue number5
Early online date12 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015


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