What role do fat cells play in pancreatic tissue?

Felicia Gerst, Robert Wagner, Morgana Barroso Oquendo, Dorothea Siegel-Axel, Andreas Fritsche, Martin Heni, Harald Staiger, Hans-Ulrich Häring, Susanne Ullrich

Background: It is now generally accepted that obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Hepatic steatosis in particular, as well as visceral and ectopic fat accumulation within tissues, is associated with the development of the disease. We recently presented the first study on isolated human pancreatic adipocytes and their interaction with islets [Gerst, F., Wagner, R., Kaiser, G., Panse, M., Heni, M., Machann, J., et al., 2017. Metabolic crosstalk between fatty pancreas and fatty liver: effects on local inflammation and insulin secretion. Diabetologia 60(11):2240–2251.]. The results indicate that the function of adipocytes depends on the overall metabolic status in humans which, in turn, differentially affects islet hormone release.

Scope of review: This review summarizes former and recent studies on factors derived from adipocytes and their effects on insulin-secreting β-cells, with particular emphasis on the human pancreas. The adipocyte secretome is discussed with a special focus on its influence on insulin secretion, β-cell survival and apoptotic β-cell death.

Major conclusions: Human pancreatic adipocytes store lipids and release adipokines, metabolites, and pro-inflammatory molecules in response to the overall metabolic, humoral, and neuronal status. The differentially regulated adipocyte secretome impacts on endocrine function, i.e., insulin secretion, β-cell survival and death which interferes with glycemic control. This review attempts to explain why the extent of pancreatic steatosis is associated with reduced insulin secretion in some studies but not in others.