Drastic transformation of visceral adipose tissue and peripheral CD4 T cells in obesity

Kohsuke Shirakawa, Motoaki Sano

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Obesity has a pronounced effect on the immune response in systemic organs that results in not only insulin resistance but also altered immune responses to infectious diseases and malignant tumors. Obesity-associated microenvironmental changes alter transcriptional expression and metabolism in T cells, leading to alterations in T-cell differentiation, proliferation, function, and survival. Adipokines, cytokines, and lipids derived from obese visceral adipose tissue (VAT) may also contribute to the systemic T-cell phenotype, resulting in obesity-specific pathogenesis. VAT T cells, which have multiple roles in regulating homeostasis and energy utilization and defending against pathogens, are most susceptible to obesity. In particular, many studies have shown that CD4 T cells are deeply involved in the homeostasis of VAT endocrine and metabolic functions and in obesity-related chronic inflammation. In obesity, macrophages and adipocytes in VAT function as antigen-presenting cells and contribute to the obesity-specific CD4 T-cell response by inducing CD4 T-cell proliferation and differentiation into inflammatory effectors via interactions between major histocompatibility complex class II and T-cell receptors. When obesity persists, prolonged stimulation by leptin and circulating free fatty acids, repetitive antigen stimulation, activating stress responses, and hypoxia induce exhaustion of CD4 T cells in VAT. T-cell exhaustion is characterized by restricted effector function, persistent expression of inhibitory receptors, and a transcriptional state distinct from functional effector and memory T cells. Moreover, obesity causes thymic regression, which may result in homeostatic proliferation of obesity-specific T-cell subsets due to changes in T-cell metabolism and gene expression in VAT. In addition to causing T-cell exhaustion, obesity also accelerates cellular senescence of CD4 T cells. Senescent CD4 T cells secrete osteopontin, which causes further VAT inflammation. The obesity-associated transformation of CD4 T cells remains a negative legacy even after weight loss, causing treatment resistance of obesity-related conditions. This review discusses the marked transformation of CD4 T cells in VAT and systemic organs as a consequence of obesity-related microenvironmental changes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1044737
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jan 4


  • CD4 T cells
  • adipose tissue
  • immunosenescence
  • obesity
  • osteopontin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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