Endocrinology and Metabolism

Inflammation during obesity is not all bad: evidence from animal and human studies

Jianping Ye, Owen P. McGuinness


Chronic inflammation is a characteristic of obesity and is associated with accompanying insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Although proinflammatory cytokines are known for their detrimental effects on adipose tissue function and insulin sensitivity, their beneficial effects in the regulation of metabolism have not drawn sufficient attention. In obesity, inflammation is initiated by a local hypoxia to augment angiogenesis and improve adipose tissue blood supply. A growing body of evidence suggests that macrophages and proinflammatory cytokines are essential for adipose remodeling and adipocyte differentiation. Phenotypes of multiple lines of transgenic mice consistently suggest that proinflammatory cytokines increase energy expenditure and act to prevent obesity. Removal of proinflammatory cytokines by gene knockout decreases energy expenditure and induces adult-onset obesity. In contrast, elevation of proinflammatory cytokines augments energy expenditure and decreases the risk for obesity. Anti-inflammatory therapies have been tested in more than a dozen clinical trials to improve insulin sensitivity and glucose homeostasis in patients with T2DM, and the results are not encouraging. One possible explanation is that anti-inflammatory therapies also attenuate the beneficial effects of inflammation in stimulating energy expenditure, which may have limited the efficacy of the treatment by promoting energy accumulation. Thus, the positive effects of proinflammatory events should be considered in evaluating the impact of inflammation in obesity and type 2 diabetes.

  • inflammation
  • energy expenditure
  • insulin resistance
  • anti-inflammatory therapy
  • type 2 diabetes
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