Hypothalamic Inflammation in Human Obesity Is Mediated by Environmental and Genetic Factors

Diabetes. 2017 Sep;66(9):2407-2415. doi: 10.2337/db17-0067. Epub 2017 Jun 2.


Obesity is associated with hypothalamic inflammation (HI) in animal models. In the current study, we examined the mediobasal hypothalamus (MBH) of 57 obese human subjects and 54 age- and sex- matched nonobese control subjects by MRI and analyzed the T2 hyperintensity as a measure of HI. Obese subjects exhibited T2 hyperintensity in the left but not the right MBH, which was strongly associated with systemic low-grade inflammation. MRS revealed the number of neurons in the left hypothalamic region to be similar in obese versus control subjects, suggesting functional but not structural impairment due to the inflammatory process. To gain mechanistic insights, we performed nutritional analysis and 16S rDNA microbiome sequencing, which showed that high-fat diet induces reduction of Parasutterella sp. in the gut, which is significantly correlated with MBH T2 hyperintensity. In addition to these environmental factors, we found subjects carrying common polymorphisms in the JNK or the MC4R gene to be more susceptible to HI. Finally, in a subgroup analysis, bariatric surgery had no effect on MBH T2 hyperintensity despite inducing significant weight loss and improvement of peripheral insulin sensitivity. In conclusion, obesity in humans is associated with HI and disturbances in the gut-brain axis, which are influenced by both environmental and genetic factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Biomarkers
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Hypertriglyceridemia
  • Hypothalamus / diagnostic imaging*
  • Hypothalamus / physiology
  • Inflammation / genetics*
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S