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Fats, inflammation and insulin resistance: insights to the role of macrophage and T-cell accumulation in adipose tissue

  • Karen A. Harford (a1), Clare M. Reynolds (a1), Fiona C. McGillicuddy (a1) and Helen M. Roche (a1)


High-fat diet-induced obesity is associated with a chronic state of low-grade inflammation, which pre-disposes to insulin resistance (IR), which can subsequently lead to type 2 diabetes mellitus. Macrophages represent a heterogeneous population of cells that are instrumental in initiating the innate immune response. Recent studies have shown that macrophages are key mediators of obesity-induced IR, with a progressive infiltration of macrophages into obese adipose tissue. These adipose tissue macrophages are referred to as classically activated (M1) macrophages. They release cytokines such as IL-1β, IL-6 and TNFα creating a pro-inflammatory environment that blocks adipocyte insulin action, contributing to the development of IR and type 2 diabetes mellitus. In lean individuals macrophages are in an alternatively activated (M2) state. M2 macrophages are involved in wound healing and immunoregulation. Wound-healing macrophages play a major role in tissue repair and homoeostasis, while immunoregulatory macrophages produce IL-10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine, which may protect against inflammation. The functional role of T-cell accumulation has recently been characterised in adipose tissue. Cytotoxic T-cells are effector T-cells and have been implicated in macrophage differentiation, activation and migration. Infiltration of cytotoxic T-cells into obese adipose tissue is thought to precede macrophage accumulation. T-cell-derived cytokines such as interferon γ promote the recruitment and activation of M1 macrophages augmenting adipose tissue inflammation and IR. Manipulating adipose tissue macrophages/T-cell activity and accumulation in vivo through dietary fat modification may attenuate adipose tissue inflammation, representing a therapeutic target for ameliorating obesity-induced IR.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Professor Helen M. Roche, fax +353 1 716 7601, email


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