Normalization of obesity-associated insulin resistance through immunotherapy


Obesity and its associated metabolic syndromes represent a growing global challenge, yet mechanistic understanding of this pathology and current therapeutics are unsatisfactory. We discovered that CD4+ T lymphocytes, resident in visceral adipose tissue (VAT), control insulin resistance in mice with diet-induced obesity (DIO). Analyses of human tissue suggest that a similar process may also occur in humans. DIO VAT-associated T cells show severely biased T cell receptor Vα repertoires, suggesting antigen-specific expansion. CD4+ T lymphocyte control of glucose homeostasis is compromised in DIO progression, when VAT accumulates pathogenic interferon-γ (IFN-γ)-secreting T helper type 1 (TH1) cells, overwhelming static numbers of TH2 (CD4+GATA-binding protein-3 (GATA-3)+) and regulatory forkhead box P3 (Foxp3)+ T cells. CD4+ (but not CD8+) T cell transfer into lymphocyte-free Rag1-null DIO mice reversed weight gain and insulin resistance, predominantly through TH2 cells. In obese WT and ob/ob (leptin-deficient) mice, brief treatment with CD3-specific antibody or its F(ab′)2 fragment, reduces the predominance of TH1 cells over Foxp3+ cells, reversing insulin resistance for months, despite continuation of a high-fat diet. Our data suggest that the progression of obesity-associated metabolic abnormalities is under the pathophysiological control of CD4+ T cells. The eventual failure of this control, with expanding adiposity and pathogenic VAT T cells, can successfully be reversed by immunotherapy.

Figure 1: Phenotype of fat-associated T cells.
Figure 2: Impact of lymphocyte deficiency on weight gain, fat distribution, glucose tolerance and insulin resistance.
Figure 3: CD4+ T cell grafts reverse obesity-associated metabolic abnormalities in Rag1-null mice.
Figure 4: CD4+Foxp3 T cells reverse metabolic abnormalities after transfer.
Figure 5: CD3-specific antibody and its F(ab′)2 fragment improve obesity-induced insulin resistance.
Figure 6: F(ab′)2 therapy alters VAT-resident macrophage phenotype.


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These studies were supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Y.C. and G.P. were recipients of scholarships from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Banting & Best Foundation. Antibodies to OT2 TCR heavy and light chain were a gift from D. Philpott (University of Toronto).

Author information




S.W. and Y.C. conceived of the study and carried out the bulk of the experiments. G.P., D.T., H.T. and Y.M. performed a number of mouse experiments. R.D., Y.W. and J.Z. provided much of the TCR material, F.M. helped with adipocyte analysis, J.B. and D.D. provided metabolic studies, E.E. and D.W. generated the bulk of human data, S.W. and H.-M.D. wrote the manuscript, and H.-M.D. financed and supervised the project and the peer review process.

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Correspondence to H.-Michael Dosch.

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Competing interests

H.M.D. holds shares in Afference Therapeutics, Inc., a start-up biotech corporation.

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Winer, S., Chan, Y., Paltser, G. et al. Normalization of obesity-associated insulin resistance through immunotherapy. Nat Med 15, 921–929 (2009).

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