Background and objectives: Obesity is a global epidemic which increases the risk of the metabolic syndrome. Cathelicidin (LL-37 and mCRAMP) is an antimicrobial peptide with an unknown role in obesity. We hypothesize that cathelicidin expression correlates with obesity and modulates fat mass and hepatic steatosis.
Materials and methods: Male C57BL/6 J mice were fed a high-fat diet. Streptozotocin was injected into mice to induce diabetes. Experimental groups were injected with cathelicidin and CD36 overexpressing lentiviruses. Human mesenteric fat adipocytes, mouse 3T3-L1 differentiated adipocytes and human HepG2 hepatocytes were used in the in vitro experiments. Cathelicidin levels in non-diabetic, prediabetic and type II diabetic patients were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.
Results: Lentiviral cathelicidin overexpression reduced hepatic steatosis and decreased the fat mass of high-fat diet-treated diabetic mice. Cathelicidin overexpression reduced mesenteric fat and hepatic fatty acid translocase (CD36) expression that was reversed by lentiviral CD36 overexpression. Exposure of adipocytes and hepatocytes to cathelicidin significantly inhibited CD36 expression and reduced lipid accumulation. Serum cathelicidin protein levels were significantly increased in non-diabetic and prediabetic patients with obesity, compared with non-diabetic patients with normal body mass index (BMI) values. Prediabetic patients had lower serum cathelicidin protein levels than non-diabetic subjects.
Conclusions: Cathelicidin inhibits the CD36 fat receptor and lipid accumulation in adipocytes and hepatocytes, leading to a reduction of fat mass and hepatic steatosis in vivo. Circulating cathelicidin levels are associated with increased BMI. Our results demonstrate that cathelicidin modulates the development of obesity.