Dermal adipocytes protect against invasive Staphylococcus aureus skin infection

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Science  02 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6217, pp. 67-71
DOI: 10.1126/science.1260972

Skin infection triggers fat responses

Obesity is associated with chronic inflammation, but does fat tissue offer protection during infection? Zhang et al. noticed that the fat layers in the skin of mice thickened after inoculation with the pathogenic bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (see the Perspective by Alcorn and Kolls). Mutant mice incapable of forming new fat cells were more susceptible to infection. The differentiating fat cells secreted a small-molecule peptide called cathelicidin, specifically in response to the infection. By contrast, mature fat cells produce less cathelicidin, and are thus less protective.

Science, this issue p. 67; see also p. 26


Adipocytes have been suggested to be immunologically active, but their role in host defense is unclear. We observed rapid proliferation of preadipocytes and expansion of the dermal fat layer after infection of the skin by Staphylococcus aureus. Impaired adipogenesis resulted in increased infection as seen in Zfp423nur12 mice or in mice given inhibitors of peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor γ. This host defense function was mediated through the production of cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide from adipocytes because cathelicidin expression was decreased by inhibition of adipogenesis, and adipocytes from Camp−/− mice lost the capacity to inhibit bacterial growth. Together, these findings show that the production of an antimicrobial peptide by adipocytes is an important element for protection against S. aureus infection of the skin.

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