New role for immune cells in preventing diabetes and hypertension

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A TYPE of immune cell which is reduced in number by obesity could be a new target to treat diseases such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension that affect overweight people, according to a collaborative study between the University of Salford, The University of Manchester and Lund University.

In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers from cardiovascular and immunology backgrounds investigated a type of immune cell called eosinophils. Eosinophils are present in a layer of fat tissue called the perivascular adipose tissue (PVAT), which previous work by the Heagerty group (Manchester) has shown impacts on how well blood vessels work providing a link between obesity and comorbidities such as hypertension.

The current research found that eosinophils were considerably reduced in the PVAT in obesity in mice, and that the PVAT function was severely impaired, contributing to type 2 diabetes and hypertension. This is not something that has previously been observed. In fact, many immune cells are found to increase in obesity, indicating a chronic low level inflammatory state of the tissue.

Dr Sheena Cruickshank, the lead researcher on the Wellcome Trust-funded study, said: “This type of immune cell is present in many parts of the body and was once thought to just act in parasitic infections and allergies, but it’s fast becoming clear that they have a significant effect on lots of aspects of health and immunity”.

Serious health problems

“Our study showed that in fact the secretions from eosinophils have a profound effect on how the blood vessels operate and when they are missing, as in obesity, serious health problems can start to develop.”

The role of the eosinophils also opens up new opportunities to investigate treatments for type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

PVAT from fat that lack eosinophils could quickly be rescued by addition of eosinophils, demonstrating that there is the potential for a treatment based on restoring this function.

The researchers observed that the eosinophils influenced the release of nitric oxide and a protein called adiponectin, which control healthy PVAT function. This appears to be a unique function of these immune cells. The researchers are particularly excited by how quickly the eosinophils could restore PVAT function, showing just how potent they may be.

Battle against obesity

Dr Sarah Withers of the University of Salford said: “Our work is really ground-breaking in understanding how immune cells are involved in controlling how fat cells work. Previously, this tissue was thought to be just play an insulating role, but now we know there is a complex and intricate relationship at many levels which gives us a great insight to how the body responds to obesity and potential to exploit new avenues in the battle against obesity-related disease’

The paper ‘Eosinophils are key regulators of perivascular adipose tissue and vascular functionality’ published in Scientific Reports.

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