Obesity is associated with low-grade chronic inflammation, and serum markers of inflammation are independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, the molecular and cellular mechanisms that link obesity to chronic inflammation and CVD are poorly understood.
Methods and Findings
Acute-phase serum amyloid A (A-SAA) mRNA levels, and A-SAA adipose secretion and serum levels were measured in obese and nonobese individuals, obese participants who underwent weight-loss, and persons treated with the insulin sensitizer rosiglitazone. Inflammation-eliciting activity of A-SAA was investigated in human adipose stromal vascular cells, coronary vascular endothelial cells and a murine monocyte cell line. We demonstrate that A-SAA was highly and selectively expressed in human adipocytes. Moreover, A-SAA mRNA levels and A-SAA secretion from adipose tissue were significantly correlated with body mass index (
r = 0.47;
p = 0.028 and
r = 0.80;
p = 0.0002, respectively). Serum A-SAA levels decreased significantly after weight loss in obese participants (
p = 0.006), as well as in those treated with rosiglitazone (
p = 0.033). The magnitude of the improvement in insulin sensitivity after weight loss was significantly correlated with decreases in serum A-SAA (
r = −0.74;
p = 0.034). SAA treatment of vascular endothelial cells and monocytes markedly increased the production of inflammatory cytokines, e.g., interleukin (IL)-6, IL-8, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1. In addition, SAA increased basal lipolysis in adipose tissue culture by 47%.
A-SAA is a proinflammatory and lipolytic adipokine in humans. The increased expression of A-SAA by adipocytes in obesity suggests that it may play a critical role in local and systemic inflammation and free fatty acid production and could be a direct link between obesity and its comorbidities, such as insulin resistance and atherosclerosis. Accordingly, improvements in systemic inflammation and insulin resistance with weight loss and rosiglitazone therapy may in part be mediated by decreases in adipocyte A-SAA production.
Obesity often alters an individual's overall metabolism, which in turn leads to complications like diabetes, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (disease of the heart and blood vessels, such as stroke or heart attacks). Having established a strong link between inflammation and cardiovascular disease, scientists now think that obesity might cause persistent low-level inflammation, and that this is the reason for the cardiovascular problems seen in many obese people. By better understanding the links between obesity, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease, the hope is that scientists may be able to find medications that can be given to obese people to reduce their risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Why Was This Study Done?
Previous research had suggested that a substance in the blood called A-SAA, which is raised by inflammation, might be a “missing link” between inflammation and cardiovascular disease, since an individual's baseline level of A-SAA is associated with the risk for cardiovascular disease (in other words, the higher the A-SAA, the higher the risk of cardiovascular disease). In the new study, researchers wanted to know whether the reason that obese people have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease is because they have higher blood levels of A-SAA.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
They found that obese people had higher levels of A-SAA in their blood. A-SAA appears to be produced in fat cells (or adipocytes) and then released into the blood. Obese people have higher numbers of fat cells, which could by itself account for the higher blood levels of A-SAA, but the researchers also found that the average fat cell from an obese individual produces and secretes higher levels of A-SAA than fat cells from lean individuals. When the researchers studied people who underwent weight loss, they found that A-SAA levels fell in response to weight loss, and this was associated with improvements in their metabolism. They then studied obese individuals who received the diabetes drug rosiglitazone (which is known to reduce inflammation). They found that even though these individuals did not lose weight, their A-SAA levels dropped as their metabolism improved. Trying to get at the mechanisms by which A-SAA might cause inflammation and diabetes, the researchers found that exposure to A-SAA can stimulate the activation of proinflammation molecules in a number of different cells, including blood vessel cells. It can also stimulate cells to break down fat stores and release fats, which could lead to metabolic complications and ultimately contribute to diabetes.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Together with similar results from other studies, the findings here suggest that A-SAA could promote inflammation, and that elevated levels of A-SAA in obese individuals could contribute to the chronic low-level inflammatory state that puts them at higher risk for cardiovascular complications. The authors speculate that drugs that reduce the blood levels of A-SAA might be useful as treatments for obese patients (to lower their risk of heart attacks and strokes). However, as they acknowledge, additional studies are needed to establish that A-SAA is indeed a causal link between obesity and inflammation and whether it plays a major role before it could be considered a promising drug target.
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Higher levels of Acute-phase serum amyloid A (A-SAA), a proinflammatory adipokine, in obese individuals may contribute to the chronic low-level inflammatory state that puts them at higher risk for cardiovascular complications.