Obesity, the most common comorbidity in SARS-CoV-2: is leptin the link?

Int J Obes (Lond). 2020 Sep;44(9):1810-1817. doi: 10.1038/s41366-020-0640-5. Epub 2020 Jul 9.


Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and lung disease. These diseases are the most commonly reported health conditions that predispose individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection to require hospitalization including intensive care unit admissions. The innate immune response is the host's first line of defense against a human coronavirus infection. However, most coronaviruses are armed with one strategy or another to overcome host antiviral defense, and the pathogenicity of the virus is related to its capacity to suppress host immunity. The multifaceted nature of obesity including its effects on immunity can fundamentally alter the pathogenesis of acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia, which are the major causes of death due to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Elevated circulating leptin concentrations are a hallmark of obesity, which is associated with a leptin-resistant state. Leptin is secreted by adipocytes in proportion to body fat and regulates appetite and metabolism through signaling in the hypothalamus. However, leptin also signals through the Jak/STAT and Akt pathways, among others, to modulate T cell number and function. Thus, leptin connects metabolism with the immune response. Therefore, it seems appropriate that its dysregulation would have serious consequences during an infection. We propose that leptin may be the link between obesity and its high prevalence as a comorbidity of the SARS-CoV-2 infection. In this article, we present a synthesis of the mechanisms underpinning susceptibility to respiratory viral infections and the contribution of the immunomodulatory effects of obesity to the outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Comorbidity
  • Coronavirus Infections* / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections* / immunology
  • Coronavirus Infections* / metabolism
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / immunology
  • Humans
  • Leptin* / blood
  • Leptin* / immunology
  • Leptin* / metabolism
  • Obesity* / epidemiology
  • Obesity* / immunology
  • Obesity* / metabolism
  • Pandemics*
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / immunology
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / metabolism
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Signal Transduction / immunology


  • Leptin