Adipocyte death triggers a pro-inflammatory response and induces metabolic activation of resident macrophages

Cell Death Dis. 2021 Jun 5;12(6):579. doi: 10.1038/s41419-021-03872-9.


A chronic low-grade inflammation within adipose tissue (AT) seems to be the link between obesity and some of its associated diseases. One hallmark of this AT inflammation is the accumulation of AT macrophages (ATMs) around dead or dying adipocytes, forming so-called crown-like structures (CLS). To investigate the dynamics of CLS and their direct impact on the activation state of ATMs, we established a laser injury model to deplete individual adipocytes in living AT from double reporter mice (GFP-labeled ATMs and tdTomato-labeled adipocytes). Hence, we were able to detect early ATM-adipocyte interactions by live imaging and to determine a precise timeline for CLS formation after adipocyte death. Further, our data indicate metabolic activation and increased lipid metabolism in ATMs upon forming CLS. Most importantly, adipocyte death, even in lean animals under homeostatic conditions, leads to a locally confined inflammation, which is in sharp contrast to other tissues. We identified cell size as cause for the described pro-inflammatory response, as the size of adipocytes is above a critical threshold size for efferocytosis, a process for anti-inflammatory removal of dead cells during tissue homeostasis. Finally, experiments on parabiotic mice verified that adipocyte death leads to a pro-inflammatory response of resident ATMs in vivo, without significant recruitment of blood monocytes. Our data indicate that adipocyte death triggers a unique degradation process and locally induces a metabolically activated ATM phenotype that is globally observed with obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology*
  • Macrophages / pathology*
  • Mice
  • Obesity / physiopathology*