Obesity and immune function relationships


  • Address reprint requests to: Prof. J. Alfredo Martínez, 1Department of Physiology and Nutrition, University of Navarra, C/Irunlarrea s/n 31080 Pamplona (Navarra), Spain E-mail: jalfmtz@unav.es


The immunological processes involved in the collaborative defence of organisms are affected by nutritional status. Thus, a positive chronic imbalance between energy intake and expenditure leads to situations of obesity, which may influence unspecific and specific immune responses mediated by humoral and cell mediated mechanisms. Furthermore, several lines of evidence have supported a link between adipose tissue and immunocompetent cells. This interaction is illustrated in obesity, where excess adiposity and impaired immune function have been described in both humans and genetically obese rodents. However, limited and often controversial information exist comparing immunity in obese and non-obese subjects as well as about the cellular and molecular mechanisms implicated. In general terms, clinical and epidemiological data support the evidence that the incidence and severity of specific types of infectious illnesses are higher in obese persons as compared to lean individuals together with the occurrence of poor antibody responses to antigens in overweight subjects. Leptin might play a key role in linking nutritional status with T-cell function. The complexities and heterogeneity of the host defences concerning the immune response in different nutritional circumstances affecting the energy balance require an integral study of the immunocompetent cells, their subsets and products as well as specific and unspecific inducer/regulator systems. In this context, more research is needed to clarify the clinical implications of the alterations induced by obesity on the immune function.