Past history of obesity triggers persistent epigenetic changes in innate immunity and exacerbates neuroinflammation

Science. 2023 Jan 6;379(6627):45-62. doi: 10.1126/science.abj8894. Epub 2023 Jan 5.


Age-related macular degeneration is a prevalent neuroinflammatory condition and a major cause of blindness driven by genetic and environmental factors such as obesity. In diseases of aging, modifiable factors can be compounded over the life span. We report that diet-induced obesity earlier in life triggers persistent reprogramming of the innate immune system, lasting long after normalization of metabolic abnormalities. Stearic acid, acting through Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), is sufficient to remodel chromatin landscapes and selectively enhance accessibility at binding sites for activator protein-1 (AP-1). Myeloid cells show less oxidative phosphorylation and shift to glycolysis, ultimately leading to proinflammatory cytokine transcription, aggravation of pathological retinal angiogenesis, and neuronal degeneration associated with loss of visual function. Thus, a past history of obesity reprograms mononuclear phagocytes and predisposes to neuroinflammation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cellular Reprogramming / genetics
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Epigenetic Memory*
  • Immunity, Innate* / genetics
  • Macular Degeneration* / genetics
  • Macular Degeneration* / immunology
  • Mice
  • Neuroinflammatory Diseases* / genetics
  • Neuroinflammatory Diseases* / immunology
  • Obesity* / genetics
  • Phagocytes / immunology
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4 / genetics
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Cytokines
  • Tlr4 protein, mouse
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4