Why belly fat isn't all bad: Fatty membrane helps regulate immune system

June 6, 2012, Loyola University Health System

A fatty membrane in the belly called the omentum has until recently been considered somewhat like the appendix -- it didn't seem to serve much purpose.

But Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine researchers have found that the appears to play an important role in regulating the immune system. The finding could lead to for organ transplant patients and patients with auto-immune diseases such as lupus and Crohn's disease.

"We now have evidence that the omentum is not just fat sitting in the belly," said Makio Iwashima, PhD, corresponding author of a study published in the June 6 issue of . Iwashima is an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

The omentum is a membrane that lines the and covers most . It is a repository for fat tissue.

A research team headed by Iwashima and Robert Love, MD, a world renowned lung transplant surgeon, examined the effect that mouse omentum cells had on cells from a mouse. T cells are the immune system's first line of defense against infection. They identify, attack and destroy bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents.

Normally, T cells multiply in response to an , such as an antibody. But when researchers put omentum cells in with activated T cells that had been exposed to antibodies, the T cells did not multiply as they normally would, but instead died. The omentum cells had this effect only on T cells that had been activated. Omentum cells did not have any effect on inactive .

It appears that omentum cells secrete a substance that tamps down the immune system. This discovery could lead to new drugs that would suppress the immune system with fewer side effects than those caused by immune-suppressing drugs now in use. Such drugs could be used, for example, to suppress the immune system in a patient who has received a lung transplant.

In addition to modulating the immune system, the omentum also appears to play a critical role in regenerating damaged tissues, Iwashima said. The omentum contains mesenchymal stem cells that migrate to the site of an injury and help regenerate tissue. Mesenchymal stem cells are cells that have the ability to develop into various types of specialized cells.

In this study, researchers showed that, in tissue-culture flasks, omentum cells can differentiate into lung-type cells as well as bone cells. Iwashima believes the omentum may be the organ specified for tissue healing and regeneration.

Explore further: Fat cells in abdomen fuel spread of ovarian cancer

More information: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0038368

Related Stories

Fat cells in abdomen fuel spread of ovarian cancer

October 30, 2011
A large pad of fat cells that extends from the stomach and covers the intestines provides nutrients that promote the spread and growth of ovarian cancer, reports a research team based at the University of Chicago in the journal ...

Discovery could help to develop new drugs to treat organ transplant and cancer patients

April 12, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Loyola researchers are reporting surprising findings about a molecule that helps ramp up the immune system in some cases and suppress it in others.

Recipient's immune system governs stem cell regeneration

November 20, 2011
A new study in Nature Medicine describes how different types of immune system T-cells alternately discourage and encourage stem cells to regrow bone and tissue, bringing into sharp focus the importance of the transplant recipient's ...

Key to immune system disease could lie inside the cheek

March 21, 2012
Powerful new cells created by Cardiff University scientists from cheek lining tissue could offer the answer to disorders of the immune system.

Recommended for you

Researchers discover key driver of atopic dermatitis

January 17, 2018
Severe eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that is driven by an allergic reaction. In their latest study, researchers at La Jolla Institute reveal an important player that promotes ...

Who might benefit from immunotherapy? New study suggests possible marker

January 16, 2018
While immunotherapy has made a big impact on cancer treatment, the fact remains that only about a quarter of patients respond to these treatments.

Researchers identify new way to unmask melanoma cells to the immune system

January 16, 2018
system, which enables these deadly skin cancers to grow and spread.

How the immune system's key organ regenerates itself

January 15, 2018
With advances in cancer immunotherapy splashing across headlines, the immune system's powerful cancer assassins—T cells—have become dinner-table conversation. But hiding in plain sight behind that "T" is the organ from ...

Immunosuppressive cells in newborns play important role in controlling inflammation in early life

January 15, 2018
New research led by The Wistar Institute, in collaboration with Sun Yat-sen University in China, has characterized the transitory presence of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) in mouse and human newborns, revealing ...

Memory loss from West Nile virus may be preventable

January 15, 2018
More than 10,000 people in the United States are living with memory loss and other persistent neurological problems that occur after West Nile virus infects the brain.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.