Leptin and the immune system: How nutritional status influences the immune response

Giuseppe Matarese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Several observations suggest the presence of an interaction between immune and the endocrine systems. Leptin is an adipocyte-derived hormone, that belongs structurally to the long-chain helical cytokine family such as interleukin-2 (IL-2), interleukin-12 (IL-12), growth hormone (GH), and signals by a class I cytokine receptor (Ob-R). This cytokine represents an important link between fat mass on the one side and the regulation of energy balance and reproductive function on the other. Indeed, obese leptin-deficient ob/ob mice display low body temperature, hyperphagia, infertility and evidence of immune defects with lymphoid organ atrophy, mainly affecting thymic size and cellularity. Acute starvation, associated with decreased leptin levels, causes thymic atrophy and reduces the delayed type hypersensitivity (DTH) reaction to antigens in normal mice, resembling that observed in ob/ob mice. Leptin replacement reverses the immunosuppressive effects of acute starvation in mice. Leptin differentially affects the in vitro proliferation and cytokine production by naive and memory T cells, increasing IL-2 secretion and proliferation of naive T cells, while inducing IFN-γ production in memory T cells with little effect on their proliferation. Presence of leptin seems to be necessary for the induction and mainteinance of the pro-inflammatory Th1 immune response. These findings support the hypothesis that leptin plays a key role in linking nutritional state to the T cell function. According to this view, leptin might represent an important target for immune intervention in a variety of pathophysiological conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-13
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Cytokine Network
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • Immune response
  • Inflammation
  • Leptin
  • Nutritional status
  • T-lymphocytes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Immunology


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