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Front Med. 2015 Jun;9(2):139-45. doi: 10.1007/s11684-015-0377-z. Epub 2014 Dec 15.

Beneficial metabolic activities of inflammatory cytokine interleukin 15 in obesity and type 2 diabetes.

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Antioxidant and Gene Regulation Laboratory, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University System, Baton Rouge, LA, 70808, USA,


In obesity, chronic inflammation is believed to induce insulin resistance and impairs adipose tissue function. Although this view is supported by a large body of literature, it has been challenged by growing evidence that pro-inflammatory cytokines may favor insulin sensitivity through induction of energy expenditure. In this review article, interleukin 15 (IL-15) is used as a new example to explain the beneficial effects of the proinflammatory cytokines. IL-15 is secreted by multiple types of cells including macrophages, neutrophils and skeletal muscle cells. IL-15 expression is induced in immune cells by endotoxin and in muscle cells by physical exercise. Its transcription is induced by transcription factor NF-κB. IL-15 binds to its receptor that contains three different subunits (α, β and γ) to activate JAK/STAT, PI3K/Akt, IKK/NF-κB and JNK/AP1 pathways in cells. In the regulation of metabolism, IL-15 reduces weight gain without inhibiting food intake in rodents. IL-15 suppresses lipogenesis, stimulates brown fat function, improves insulin sensitivity through weight loss and energy expenditure. In human, circulating IL-15 is negatively associated with body weight. In the immune system, IL-15 stimulates proliferation and differentiation of T cells, NK cells, monocytes and neutrophils. In the anti-obesity effects of IL-15, T cells and NK cells are not required, but leptin receptor is required. In summary, evidence from human and rodents supports that the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-15 may enhance energy expenditure to protect the body from obesity and type 2 diabetes. The mechanism of IL-15 action remains to be fully uncovered in the regulation of energy expenditure.

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