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Hormones, Tregs and Fat – how they affect Type 2 diabetes

Immunosuppressive regulatory T-cells (Tregs) have been found to play an important role in the functioning of adipose tissue. This is the discovery of scientists from the Helmholtz Diabetes Center (HDC) at Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Technical University of Munich (TUM). Their findings are published in the journal Cell Metabolism. With the number of obese people as well as diagnoses of Type 2 diabetes increasing worldwide, and both disorders associated with metabolic changes including amplified inflammatory responses in adipose tissue, this discovery could help in the understanding and treatment of these conditions.

In an experimental model, it was determined that the number of Tregs in adipose tissue increases in response to different environmental stimuli. These stimuli included a short-term cold treatment, stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system or short-term high-caloric exposure.

“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”, said the leader of the study, Carolin Daniel. “Our experiments show for the first time that Tregs can support fat depots in dealing with environmental challenges.”

Prof. Dr. Matthias Tschöp, also involved in the study, 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.”

Regulatory T-cells suppress unwanted immune reactions and thereby prevent autoimmune diseases. Brown adipose tissue is found in almost all mammals, including humans. Its cells produce heat by oxidizing sugars and fatty acids. This makes them an interesting target for pharmacological treatment of obesity.

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