Stromal transdifferentiation drives lipomatosis and induces extensive vascular remodeling in the aging human lymph node

J Pathol. 2023 Mar;259(3):236-253. doi: 10.1002/path.6030. Epub 2022 Dec 21.


Lymph node (LN) lipomatosis is a common but rarely discussed phenomenon associated with aging that involves a gradual exchange of the LN parenchyma into adipose tissue. The mechanisms behind these changes and the effects on the LN are unknown. We show that LN lipomatosis starts in the medullary regions of the human LN and link the initiation of lipomatosis to transdifferentiation of LN fibroblasts into adipocytes. The latter is associated with a downregulation of lymphotoxin beta expression. We also show that isolated medullary and CD34+ fibroblasts, in contrast to the reticular cells of the T-cell zone, display an inherently higher sensitivity for adipogenesis. Progression of lipomatosis leads to a gradual loss of the medullary lymphatic network, but at later stages, collecting-like lymphatic vessels are found inside the adipose tissue. The stromal dysregulation includes a dramatic remodeling and dilation of the high endothelial venules associated with reduced density of naïve T-cells. Abnormal clustering of plasma cells is also observed. Thus, LN lipomatosis causes widespread stromal dysfunction with consequences for the immune contexture of the human LN. Our data warrant an increased awareness of LN lipomatosis as a factor contributing to decreased immune functions in the elderly and in disease. © 2022 The Authors. The Journal of Pathology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

Keywords: adipocytes; aging; fibroblasts; high endothelial venules (HEVs); lipomatosis; lymph node; medullary reticular cells (MedRCs); medullary sinuses; stromal remodeling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Cell Transdifferentiation*
  • Humans
  • Lipomatosis* / metabolism
  • Lipomatosis* / pathology
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Vascular Remodeling