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Curr Diab Rep. 2017 Aug 15;17(10):87. doi: 10.1007/s11892-017-0917-9.

The Immune System in Obesity: Developing Paradigms Amidst Inconvenient Truths.

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Department of Microbiology, Boston University School of Medicine, 72 East Concord Street L-516, Boston, MA, 02118, USA.
Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA.
Department of Microbiology, Boston University School of Medicine, 72 East Concord Street L-516, Boston, MA, 02118, USA.
Department of Pathology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine, Boston, MA, USA.



Adipose tissue (AT) houses both innate and adaptive immune systems that are crucial for preserving AT function and metabolic homeostasis. In this review, we summarize recent information regarding progression of obesity-associated AT inflammation and insulin resistance. We additionally consider alterations in AT distribution and the immune system in males vs. females and among different racial populations.


Innate and adaptive immune cell-derived inflammation drives insulin resistance both locally and systemically. However, new evidence also suggests that the immune system is equally vital for adipocyte differentiation and protection from ectopic lipid deposition. Furthermore, roles of anti-inflammatory immune cells such as regulatory T cells, "M2-like" macrophages, eosinophils, and mast cells are being explored, primarily due to promise of immunotherapeutic applications. Both immune responses and AT distribution are strongly influenced by factors like sex and race, which have been largely underappreciated in the field of metabolically-associated inflammation, or meta-flammation. More studies are required to recognize factors that switch inflammation from controlled to uncontrolled in obesity-associated pathogenesis and to integrate the combined effects of meta-flammation and immunometabolism. It is critical to recognize that the AT-associated immune system can be alternately beneficial and destructive; therefore, simply blocking immune responses early in obesity may not be the best clinical approach. The dearth of information on gender and race-associated disparities in metabolism, AT distribution, and the immune system suggest that a greater understanding of such differences will be critical to develop personalized treatments for obesity and the associated metabolic dysfunction.


Adaptive immunity; Adipose tissue; Ethnicity; Gender; Innate immunity; Obesity; Race

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