Distinct immune cells coordinate to control the adverse effects of excessive fat.

ONJCRI researchers have identified a network of distinct immune cell populations that work together to dampen the negative effects of visceral fat build-up associated with aging and obesity that can otherwise lead to diseases such as diabetes.

Visceral body fat is the “hidden” fat stored around our internal organs such as our liver and intestines. This fat is essential for our normal function as it serves as both an energy store and an endocrine organ critical for ensuring metabolic balance. However, excessive visceral fat can lead to serious health issues and the onset of metabolic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke due to the unwanted inflammation and metabolic imbalance that ensues.

In an exciting new study published in the prestigious journal Nature Immunology, Tissue and Tumour Immunity Lab head, Dr. Ajith Vasanthakumar, together with collaborator Professor Axel Kallies and colleagues from the Doherty Institute, has discovered two distinct immune cell populations present in visceral fat that differ in prevalence between males and females.

“We found that both these immune cell populations perform distinct roles in protecting against age-, sex- and diet-associated metabolic dysfunction,” said Dr. Vasanthakumar.

“Interestingly, how these immune cells develop and function differ between men and women providing us with insights into the sex-bias associated with the incidence of metabolic diseases. Importantly, we now have a better understanding of how we can develop targeted interventions to combat such diseases”.

These findings also have implications in other visceral fat rich organs such as the breast as it is long known that obesity is linked to high incidence of breast cancer. This ground-breaking study was a multi-institutional collaboration between The Doherty institute, University of Melbourne, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, WEHI and La Trobe University.