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Adipose tissue and the immune system.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK.


Adipocytes anatomically associated with lymph nodes (and omental milky spots) have many special properties including fatty acid composition and the control of lipolysis that equip them to interact locally with lymphoid cells. Lymph node lymphocytes and tissue dendritic cells acquire their fatty acids from the contiguous adipocytes. Lymph node-derived dendritic cells suppress lipolysis in perinodal adipocytes but those that permeate the adipose tissue stimulate lipolysis, especially after minor, local immune stimulation. Inflammation alters the composition of fatty acids incorporated into dendritic cells, and that of node-containing adipose tissue, counteracting the effects of dietary lipids. Thus these specialised adipocytes partially emancipate the immune system from fluctuations in the abundance and composition of dietary lipids. Prolonged, low-level immune stimulation induces the local formation of more adipocytes, especially adjacent to the inflamed lymph node. This mechanism may contribute to hypertrophy of the mesentery and omentum in chronic inflammatory diseases such as HIV-infection, and in smokers. Paracrine interactions between adipose and lymphoid tissues are enhanced by diets rich in n-6 fatty acids and attentuated by fish oils. The latter improve immune function and body conformation in animals and people. The partitioning of adipose tissue in many depots, some specialised for local, paracrine interactions with other tissues, is a fundamental feature of mammals.

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