Interferon-α-producing plasmacytoid dendritic cells drive the loss of adipose tissue regulatory T cells during obesity

Cell Metab. 2021 Aug 3;33(8):1610-1623.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2021.06.007. Epub 2021 Jul 12.


The visceral adipose tissue (VAT) of lean mice hosts a unique population of regulatory T cells (Tregs) that have a distinct transcriptome and T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire and regulate local and systemic inflammation and metabolism. Perplexingly, this population disappears in obese mice, limiting the promise of Treg-based therapies for metabolic disorders. We exploited the power of a VAT-Treg TCR-transgenic mouse model to follow the dynamics of, and phenotypic changes in, the VAT-Treg population throughout the development of diet-induced obesity. Our results show that VAT-Tregs are lost under obesogenic conditions due to downregulation of their defining transcription factor, PPARγ, coupled with their strikingly enhanced responses to pro-inflammatory cytokines. In particular, the VAT from obese mice (and reportedly humans) was strongly enriched in plasmacytoid dendritic cells that actively express interferon-alpha. These cells were directly toxic to PPARγ+ VAT-Tregs. Blocking this pathway in obese mice by multiple approaches substantially restored the VAT-Treg population and enhanced insulin sensitivity.

Keywords: CRISPR-Cas9; Tregs; adipose tissue; immunometabolism; inflammatory cytokine; interferon; obesity; pDC.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Dendritic Cells / metabolism
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Interferon-alpha* / metabolism
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory* / metabolism


  • Interferon-alpha