Breast milk alkylglycerols sustain beige adipocytes through adipose tissue macrophages

J Clin Invest. 2019 May 13;129(6):2485-2499. doi: 10.1172/JCI125646.


Prevalence of obesity among infants and children below 5 years of age is rising dramatically, and early childhood obesity is a forerunner of obesity and obesity-associated diseases in adulthood. Childhood obesity is hence one of the most serious public health challenges today. Here, we have identified a mother-to-child lipid signaling that protects from obesity. We have found that breast milk-specific lipid species, so-called alkylglycerol-type (AKG-type) ether lipids, which are absent from infant formula and adult-type diets, maintain beige adipose tissue (BeAT) in the infant and impede the transformation of BeAT into lipid-storing white adipose tissue (WAT). Breast milk AKGs are metabolized by adipose tissue macrophages (ATMs) to platelet-activating factor (PAF), which ultimately activates IL-6/STAT3 signaling in adipocytes and triggers BeAT development in the infant. Accordingly, lack of AKG intake in infancy leads to a premature loss of BeAT and increases fat accumulation. AKG signaling is specific for infants and is inactivated in adulthood. However, in obese adipose tissue, ATMs regain their ability to metabolize AKGs, which reduces obesity. In summary, AKGs are specific lipid signals of breast milk that are essential for healthy adipose tissue development.

Keywords: Adipose tissue; Immunology; Macrophages; Metabolism; Obesity.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes, Beige / cytology
  • Adipocytes, Beige / metabolism*
  • Adipose Tissue, White / cytology
  • Adipose Tissue, White / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Glycerides / genetics
  • Glycerides / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Interleukin-6 / genetics
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Milk, Human / metabolism*
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor / genetics
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor / metabolism


  • Glycerides
  • IL6 protein, human
  • Interleukin-6
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor
  • STAT3 protein, human
  • Stat3 protein, mouse
  • interleukin-6, mouse