Perforin is a Novel Immune Regulator of Obesity Related Insulin Resistance

  1. Daniel A. Winer1–,5
  1. From the 1Division of Cellular & Molecular Biology, Diabetes Research Group, Toronto General Research Institute (TGRI), University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada;
  2. the2Department of Pathology, University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada;
  3. the3Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Department of Medicine, University Health Network, Toronto, Ontario, Canada;
  4. the4Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada and
  5. the5Department of Immunology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
  1. Corresponding authors: Shawn Winer, shawn.winer{at} or Daniel A. Winer, dan.winer{at}


Obesity related insulin resistance is associated with an influx of pathogenic T cells into visceral adipose tissue (VAT), but the mechanisms regulating lymphocyte balance in such tissues are unknown. Here we describe an important role for the immune cytotoxic effector molecule, perforin, in regulating this process. Perforin-deficient mice (Prf1null) show early increased body weight and adiposity, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance when placed on high fat diet (HFD). Regulatory effects of perforin on glucose tolerance are mechanistically linked to the control of T cell proliferation and cytokine production in inflamed VAT. HFD fed Prf1null mice have increased accumulation of pro-inflammatory IFNγ-producing CD4+ and CD8+ T cells and M1-polarized macrophages in VAT. CD8+ T cells from the VAT of Prf1null mice have increased proliferation and impaired early apoptosis, suggesting a role for perforin in the regulation of T cell turnover during HFD-feeding. Transfer of CD8+ T cells from Prf1null mice into CD8 deficient mice (CD8null) resulted in worsening of metabolic parameters compared to wild type donors. Improved metabolic parameters in HFD natural killer (NK) cell deficient mice (NKnull) ruled out a role for NK cells as a single source of perforin in regulating glucose homeostasis. The findings support the importance of T cell function in insulin resistance, and suggest that modulation of lymphocyte homeostasis in inflamed VAT as one possible avenue for therapeutic intervention.


  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.

  • Received October 3, 2013.
  • Accepted July 11, 2014.

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