Obesity, an epidemic of our times with rates rising to alarming levels, is associated with comorbidities including cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, certain cancers, and degenerative diseases of the brain and other organs. Importantly, obesity is a leading cause of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. As emerging evidence has shown over the last decade, inflammation is one of the critical processes associated with the development of insulin resistance, diabetes and related diseases, and obesity is now considered as a state of chronic low-grade inflammation. Adipose tissue, apart from its classical role as an energy storage depot, is also a major endocrine organ secreting many factors, whose local and circulating levels are affected by the degree of adiposity. Obesity leads to infiltration of the expanded adipose tissue by macrophages and increased levels in proinflammatory cytokines. The first indication for increased cytokine release in obesity was provided by the identification of increased expression of TNF-alpha, a proinflammatory cytokine, in the adipose tissue of obese mice in the early 1990s. TNF-alpha is expressed in and secreted by adipose tissue, its levels correlating with the degree of adiposity and the associated insulin resistance. Targeting TNF-alpha and/or its receptors has been suggested as a promising treatment for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. This review will summarize the available knowledge on the role of TNF-alpha in obesity and related processes and the potential implications of the above in the development of new therapeutic approaches for obesity and insulin resistance. Recent data from clinical studies will also be described together with late findings on the pathogenesis of obesity and insulin resistance.
Copyright (c) 2010 S. Karger AG, Basel.