Scientists find why men more likely to get obesity

In a new study, researchers found important differences between the male and female immune systems which may explain why men are more susceptible to obesity and metabolism-related associated diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The research was conducted by a team at the Doherty Institute and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

It has long been known that men are more likely than women to develop unhealthy obesity and related metabolic diseases, while women are more prone to certain autoimmune diseases such as arthritis.

This suggests the male and female immune systems differ, but until now scientists weren’t sure how.

In the study, the team examined male and female adipose tissue—commonly referred to as body fat and discovered striking differences in the numbers and function of an immune cell population called regulatory T cells, or Treg cells, between male and female.

Treg cells play a central role in the body by dampening inflammation, autoimmunity and maintaining the health of many tissues, including the adipose tissue.

Importantly, the adipose tissue is not only storage for energy, but also an endocrine organ that plays a crucial part in regulating metabolism, appetite, and inflammation. It also produces a range of different hormones.

The team systematically examined every cell type in the adipose tissue and discovered a novel type of stromal—or connecting—cell that communicates with Treg cells and is found only in males.

These stromal cells determine how many Treg cells can be recruited to the adipose tissue and how they are being activated.

The team says finding these differences between male and female Treg cells is a remarkable breakthrough, as scientists have previously been unable to understand the differences between male and female immune systems.

With the unprecedented worldwide rise of obesity and metabolic disease, the team says the findings are important when considering new therapeutic approaches to this global challenge.

They are now exploring whether similar mechanisms are at play in autoimmune diseases and in cancers.

The lead author of the study is the University of Melbourne Dr. Ajithkumar Vasanthakumar, Doherty Institute postdoctoral researcher.

The study is published in Nature.

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