Obesity is associated with more activated neutrophils in African American male youth

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There is emerging evidence suggesting the role of peripheral blood leukocytes in the pathogenesis of obesity and related diseases. However, few studies have taken a genome-wide approach to investigating gene expression profiles in peripheral leukocytes between obese and lean individuals with the consideration of obesity-related shifts in leukocyte types.


We conducted this study in 95 African Americans (AAs) of both genders (age 14–20 years, 46 lean and 49 obese). Complete blood count with differential test (CBC) was performed in whole blood. Genome-wide gene expression analysis was obtained using the Illumina HumanHT-12 V4 Beadchip with RNA extracted from peripheral leukocytes. Out of the 95 participants, 64 had neutrophils stored. The validation study was based on real-time PCR with RNA extracted from purified neutrophils.


CBC test suggested that, in males, obesity was associated with increased neutrophil percentage (P=0.03). Genome-wide gene expression analysis showed that, in males, the majority of the most differentially expressed genes were related to neutrophil activation. Validation of the gene expression levels of ELANE (neutrophil elastase) and MPO (myeloperoxidase) in purified neutrophils demonstrated that the expression of these two genes—important biomarkers of neutrophils activation—were significantly elevated in obese males (P=0.01 and P=0.02, respectively).


The identification of increased neutrophil percentage and activation in obese AA males suggests that neutrophils have an essential role in the pathogenesis of obesity-related disease. Further functional and mechanistic studies on neutrophils may contribute to the development of novel intervention strategies reducing the burden associated with obesity-related health problems.

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This study was supported by a grant HL105689 from the National Institute of Health. We would like to extend a special thanks to all the participants for their involvment in our study. We are especially grateful to the staffs in our departments for their help in recruitment, data collection and lab experiments.

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Correspondence to X Wang.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Supplementary Information accompanies this paper on International Journal of Obesity website

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Xu, X., Su, S., Wang, X. et al. Obesity is associated with more activated neutrophils in African American male youth. Int J Obes 39, 26–32 (2015) doi:10.1038/ijo.2014.194

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