Release of interleukins and other inflammatory cytokines by human adipose tissue is enhanced in obesity and primarily due to the nonfat cells

Vitam Horm. 2006;74:443-77. doi: 10.1016/S0083-6729(06)74018-3.


The white adipose tissue, especially of humans, is now recognized as the central player in the mild inflammatory state that is characteristic of obesity. The question is how the increased accumulation of lipid seen in obesity causes an inflammatory state and how this is linked to the hypertension and type 2 diabetes that accompanies obesity. Once it was thought that adipose tissue was primarily a reservoir for excess calories that were stored in the adipocytes as triacylglycerols. In times of caloric deprivation these stored lipids were mobilized as free fatty acids and the insulin resistance of obesity was attributed to free fatty acids. It is now clear that in humans the expansion of adipose tissue seen in obesity results in more blood vessels, more connective tissue fibroblasts, and especially more macrophages. There is an enhanced secretion of some interleukins and inflammatory cytokines in adipose tissue of the obese as well as increased circulating levels of many cytokines. The central theme of this chapter is that human adipose tissue is a potent source of inflammatory interleukins plus other cytokines and that the majority of this release is due to the nonfat cells in the adipose tissue except for leptin and adiponectin that are primarily secreted by adipocytes. Human adipocytes secrete at least as much plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1), MCP-1, interleukin-8 (IL-8), and IL-6 in vitro as they do leptin but the nonfat cells of adipose tissue secrete even more of these proteins. The secretion of leptin, on the other hand, by the nonfat cells is negligible. The amount of serum amyloid A proteins 1 & 2 (SAA 1 & 2), haptoglobin, nerve growth factor (NGF), macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF), and PAI-1 secreted by the adipocytes derived from a gram of adipose tissue is 144%, 75%, 72%, 37%, and 23%, respectively, of that by the nonfat cells derived from the same amount of human adipose tissue. However, the release of IL-8, MCP-1, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), TGF-beta1, IL-6, PGE(2), TNF-alpha, cathepsin S, hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), IL-1beta, IL-10, resistin, C-reactive protein (CRP), and interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra) by adipocytes is less than 12% of that by the nonfat cells present in human adipose tissue. Obesity markedly elevates the total release of TNF-alpha, IL-6, and IL-8 by adipose tissue but only that of TNF-alpha is enhanced in adipocytes. However, on a quantitative basis the vast majority of the TNF-alpha comes from the nonfat cells. Visceral adipose tissue also releases more VEGF, resistin, IL-6, PAI-1, TGF-beta1, IL-8, and IL-10 per gram of tissue than does abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue. In conclusion, there is an increasing recognition that adipose tissue is an endocrine organ that secretes leptin and adiponectin along with a host of other paracrine and endocrine factors in addition to free fatty acids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Interleukins / metabolism*
  • Obesity / immunology
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Rats


  • Cytokines
  • Interleukins