Insights gained from a study into immune system cells could help fat cells deal with environmental challenges, and form new treatments in the field of type 2 diabetes.
German researchers have shown that cells known as regulatory T-cells or Tregs, which are responsible for suppressing certain immune reactions, also support fat (adipose) tissue, which regulates weight loss.
A team from the Helmholtz Diabetes Center based at Technical University of Munich discovered that the levels of Tregs in adipose tissue increased in response to different environmental stimuli. These stimuli included exposure to cold weather, which activated the ‘fight or flight’ response, as well as stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system or short-term high-caloric exposure.
The numbers of Tregs particularly increased in brown fat, which burns energy and creates heat, but there was a “weaker” response in subcutaneous and visceral fat.
“All these stimuli supported those immunosuppressive cells directly in the adipose tissue”, said study author Maike Becker.
Subsequent experiments revealed that two signalling molecules, Stat6 und Pte, were of significance in boosting levels of Treg cells.
Lead researcher Dr Carolin Daniel said: “A better understanding of the immunological mechanisms involved in the target tissue will be critical for the development of personalized interventions in order to improve adipose tissue function during obesity and diabetes.
“Our experiments show for the first time that Tregs can support fat depots in dealing with environmental challenges.”
Fellow researcher, Professor Matthias Tschöp added: “Our findings highlight the complex interactions between our body and the environment. We have known for a while that hormones play a key role here – but now have to accept that immune cells may be just as important for a balanced metabolism. These insights therefore help us tremendously with designing more efficient ways to therapeutically optimize when and how to store calories.”
Researchers worldwide are also investigating T-cells but in the pursuit of helping children in fighting type 1 diabetes. They are exploring whether the cells could help stop the immune system from attacking insulin-producing beta cells which characterises type 1 diabetes.
The study has been published in the journal Cell Metabolism,

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