The adaptive immune system as a fundamental regulator of adipose tissue inflammation and insulin resistance

Immunol Cell Biol. 2012 Sep;90(8):755-62. doi: 10.1038/icb.2011.110. Epub 2012 Jan 10.


Over the past decade, chronic inflammation in visceral adipose tissue (VAT) has gained acceptance as a lead promoter of insulin resistance in obesity. A great deal of evidence has pointed to the role of adipokines and innate immune cells, in particular, adipose tissue macrophages, in the regulation of fat inflammation and glucose homeostasis. However, more recently, cells of the adaptive immune system, specifically B and T lymphocytes, have emerged as unexpected promoters and controllers of insulin resistance. These adaptive immune cells infiltrate obesity expanded VAT and through cytokine secretion and macrophage modulation dictate the extent of the local inflammatory response, thereby directly impacting insulin resistance. The remarkable ability of our adaptive immune system to regulate insulin sensitivity and metabolism has unmasked a novel physiological function of this system, and promises new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies to manage the disease. This review highlights critical roles of adipose tissue lymphocytes in governing glucose homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity / immunology*
  • Adipose Tissue / immunology*
  • Adipose Tissue / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immune System / immunology*
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Inflammation / pathology*
  • Insulin Resistance / immunology*
  • Obesity / immunology
  • Obesity / pathology