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Proc Nutr Soc. 2001 Aug;60(3):365-74.

Long-term changes in adipose tissue in human disease.

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Department of Biological Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.


Redistribution of white adipose tissue is a long-term symptom of several chronic diseases. Although the roles of adipocytes in acute illness have been thoroughly studied, how or why short-term responses of adipose tissue to disease sometimes produce long-term redistribution, and the causal relationship between the anatomical changes and the associated metabolic syndromes are poorly understood. The present paper reviews explanations for the redistribution of adipose tissue after infection with HIV, and in Crohn's disease; both conditions that share the peculiarity of selective expansion of certain adipose depots while others are depleted. HIV adipose tissue redistribution syndrome (HARS) develops gradually after several months of infection with the HIV both in untreated patients and in those taking protease inhibitors and nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors. Some current theories about the causes of HARS are critically assessed, and reasons presented for implicating local interactions between the immune system and perinodal adipocytes. Some evolutionary aspects of conspicuous long-term changes in the distribution of human adipose tissue are discussed. Adipose tissue acts as a social signal, indicating dietary history and previous exposure to pathogens. A distinctive symptom of Crohn's disease is selective enlargement of the mesenteric adipose tissue near the diseased lymph nodes and intestine. Perinodal adipocytes have site-specific properties not found in adipocytes from nodeless depots, such as perirenal and epididymal, that may equip them to interact locally with lymph-node lymphoid cells, making polyunsaturated fatty acids selectively and rapidly available to activated immune cells. Studies of the time course of activation of perinodal adipocytes via the lymph nodes they enclose indicate that prolonged or frequent stimulation recruits more adipocytes to control by immune cells, which may lead to selective enlargement of node-containing depots. These concepts suggest hypotheses about HARS and the anomalous development of mesenteric adipose tissue in Crohn's disease that could form the basis for further investigations.

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