Obesity stimulates chronic inflammation in adipose tissue, which is associated with insulin resistance, although the underlying mechanism remains largely unknown. Here we showed that obesity-related adipocyte degeneration causes release of cell-free DNA (cfDNA), which promotes macrophage accumulation in adipose tissue via Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9), originally known as a sensor of exogenous DNA fragments. Fat-fed obese wild-type mice showed increased release of cfDNA, as determined by the concentrations of single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) and double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) in plasma. cfDNA released from degenerated adipocytes promoted monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1) expression in wild-type macrophages, but not in TLR9-deficient (Tlr9 (-/-) ) macrophages. Fat-fed Tlr9 (-/-) mice demonstrated reduced macrophage accumulation and inflammation in adipose tissue and better insulin sensitivity compared with wild-type mice, whereas bone marrow reconstitution with wild-type bone marrow restored the attenuation of insulin resistance observed in fat-fed Tlr9 (-/-) mice. Administration of a TLR9 inhibitory oligonucleotide to fat-fed wild-type mice reduced the accumulation of macrophages in adipose tissue and improved insulin resistance. Furthermore, in humans, plasma ssDNA level was significantly higher in patients with computed tomography-determined visceral obesity and was associated with homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR), which is the index of insulin resistance. Our study may provide a novel mechanism for the development of sterile inflammation in adipose tissue and a potential therapeutic target for insulin resistance.
Keywords: Toll-like receptor-9; adipose tissue; cell-free DNA; inflammation; insulin resistance; macrophage.