Visceral adipose tissue imparts peripheral macrophage influx into the hypothalamus

Kuan Hui Ethan Chen, Nancy M. Lainez, Meera G. Nair, Djurdjica Coss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Obesity is characterized by a systemic inflammation and hypothalamic neuroinflammation. Systemic inflammation is caused by macrophages that infiltrate obese adipose tissues. We previously demonstrated that high-fat diet (HFD)-fed male mice exhibited peripheral macrophage infiltration into the hypothalamus, in addition to activation of resident microglia. Since this infiltration contributes to neuroinflammation and neuronal impairment, herein we characterize the phenotype and origin of these hypothalamic macrophages in HFD mice. Methods: C57BL/6J mice were fed HFD (60% kcal from fat) or control diet with matching sucrose levels, for 12–16 weeks. Males and females were analyzed separately to determine sex-specific responses to HFD. Differences in hypothalamic gene expression in HFD-fed male and female mice, compared to their lean controls, in two different areas of the hypothalamus, were determined using the NanoString neuroinflammation panel. Phenotypic changes in macrophages that infiltrated the hypothalamus in HFD-fed mice were determined by analyzing cell surface markers using flow cytometry and compared to changes in macrophages from the adipose tissue and peritoneal cavity. Adipose tissue transplantation was performed to determine the source of hypothalamic macrophages. Results: We determined that hypothalamic gene expression profiles demonstrate sex-specific and region-specific diet-induced changes. Sex-specific changes included larger changes in males, while region-specific changes included larger changes in the area surrounding the median eminence. Several genes were identified that may provide partial protection to female mice. We also identified diet-induced changes in macrophage migration into the hypothalamus, adipose tissue, and peritoneal cavity, specifically in males. Further, we determined that hypothalamus-infiltrating macrophages express pro-inflammatory markers and markers of metabolically activated macrophages that were identical to markers of adipose tissue macrophages in HFD-fed mice. Employing adipose tissue transplant, we demonstrate that hypothalamic macrophages can originate from the visceral adipose tissue. Conclusion: HFD-fed males experience higher neuroinflammation than females, likely because they accumulate more visceral fat, which provides a source of pro-inflammatory macrophages that migrate to other tissues, including the hypothalamus. Our findings may explain the male bias for neuroinflammation and the metabolic syndrome. Together, our results demonstrate a new connection between the adipose tissue and the hypothalamus in obesity that contributes to neuroinflammation and hypothalamic pathologies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number140
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Fat transplant
  • Hypothalamus
  • Macrophage
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Obesity
  • Sex differences


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