New research reveals how our immune cells use the body’s fat stores to fight infection.

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Research from the University of East Anglia and Quadram Institute shows how our immune cells exploit the body's fat reserves to combat infection. The study, published in Nature Communications on December 8th, 2021.

Eventually, the study team hopes to assist cure infections in fragile and elderly populations. To study fatty acid transport and consumption in living stem cells, the UEA team cooperated with the Quadram Institute and colleagues at the Earlham Institute. Using liver damage to measure the severity of Salmonella bacterial infection, they investigated the immunological response. Salmonella is a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea, vomiting, stomach discomfort, fever, and sepsis, among other symptoms.

According to the research findings, blood stem cells react to infection by collecting high-energy fatty acids from the body's fat reserves. It has been discovered that infection signals in the bone marrow cause adipocytes to discharge their fat reserves into the bloodstream.

When these high-energy fatty acids are taken up by blood stem cells, they can produce millions more Salmonella-fighting white blood cells, effectively feeding the stem cells. Additionally, the researchers explained how the fatty acids are transmitted and their implications for future therapy of infection.

UEA's Norwich Medical School's Dr. Stuart Rushworth said: "Our findings provide light on how the blood and the immune system react to infection."

It takes a lot of energy to fight illness, and fat reserves are large energy deposits, giving blood stem cells the fuel to power up the immunological response. Understanding how this "fuel boost" works provides fresh ideas for enhancing the body's natural ability to fight infection in the future.

Naiara Beraza, a researcher at the Quadram Institute, said: "Our discoveries help us to understand how our immune system utilizes fat as a fuel for the response to infection. To create novel treatments for liver infections, we need to understand these pathways."

"I hope that the results of our research will lead to more effective therapy for fragile and elderly patients with infections by enhancing their immune response." Dr. Rushworth stated.

"With antibiotic resistance being such a significant and broad concern for society," he said, "there is an urgent need to discover creative approaches to assist the body's immune system combat illness."


Mistry, J.J., Hellmich, C., Moore, J.A. et al. Free fatty-acid transport via CD36 drives β-oxidation-mediated hematopoietic stem cell response to infection. Nat Commun 12, 1730 (2021)

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