Inflammatory cytokines in general and central obesity and modulating effects of physical activity

PLoS One. 2015 Mar 17;10(3):e0121971. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0121971. eCollection 2015.


Context: Chronic systemic inflammation in obesity originates from local immune responses in visceral adipose tissue. However, assessment of a broad range of inflammation-mediating cytokines and their relationship to physical activity and adipometrics has scarcely been reported to date.

Objective: To characterize the profile of a broad range of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines and the impact of physical activity and energy expenditure in individuals with general obesity, central obesity, and non-obese subjects.

Design, setting, and participants: A cross-sectional study comprising 117 obese patients (body mass index (BMI) ≥ 30) and 83 non-obese community-based volunteers.

Main outcomes measures: Serum levels of interleukin (IL)-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, IL-12, IL-13, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), interferon (IFN)-γ and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α were measured. Physical activity and energy expenditure (MET) were assessed with actigraphy. Adipometrics comprised BMI, weight, abdominal-, waist- and hip-circumference, waist to hip ratio (WHR), and waist-to-height-ratio (WHtR).

Results: General obesity was associated with significantly elevated levels of IL-5, IL-10, IL-12, IL-13, IFN-γ and TNF-α, central obesity with significantly elevated IL-5, IL-10, IL-12, IL-13 and IFN-γ-levels. In participants with general obesity, levels of IL-4, IL-10 and IL-13 were significantly elevated in participants with low physical activity, even when controlled for BMI which was negatively associated with physical acitivity. Cytokines significantly correlated with adipometrics, particularly in obese participants.

Conclusions: Results confirm up-regulation of certain pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines in obesity. In obese subjects, physical activity may lower levels and thus reduce pro-inflammatory effects of cytokines that may link obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Cytokines / blood*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / blood
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity*
  • Obesity / blood*
  • Waist Circumference


  • Cytokines

Grants and funding

This study was supported by the Integrated Research and Treatment Centre for Adiposity Diseases (IFB), University of Leipzig, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), FKZ: 01EO1001, and the Claussen-Simon-Foundation. The funding sources had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; and preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.