A guide to interrogating immunometabolism

Nat Rev Immunol. 2021 Oct;21(10):637-652. doi: 10.1038/s41577-021-00529-8. Epub 2021 Apr 15.


The metabolic charts memorized in early biochemistry courses, and then later forgotten, have come back to haunt many immunologists with new recognition of the importance of these pathways. Metabolites and the activity of metabolic pathways drive energy production, macromolecule synthesis, intracellular signalling, post-translational modifications and cell survival. Immunologists who identify a metabolic phenotype in their system are often left wondering where to begin and what does it mean? Here, we provide a framework for navigating and selecting the appropriate biochemical techniques to explore immunometabolism. We offer recommendations for initial approaches to develop and test metabolic hypotheses and how to avoid common mistakes. We then discuss how to take things to the next level with metabolomic approaches, such as isotope tracing and genetic approaches. By proposing strategies and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of different methodologies, we aim to provide insight, note important considerations and discuss ways to avoid common misconceptions. Furthermore, we highlight recent studies demonstrating the power of these metabolic approaches to uncover the role of metabolism in immunology. By following the framework in this Review, neophytes and seasoned investigators alike can venture into the emerging realm of cellular metabolism and immunity with confidence and rigour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • Immunity*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways*
  • Metabolomics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism