Skin Fat Cells Protect Us from Infections

That little bit of pudge, your “baby face,” or having pinch-able cheeks may keep your skin healthier, it seems. Researchers have found that “fat cells below the skin help protect us from bacteria.” In the January 2nd, 2015 issue of Science, the results of a study conducted by scientists at UC San Diego School of Medicine was published showing immune factors within the fat cells beneath our skin.

Human Skin Cross Section

The usual immune response comes from our body’s ability to produce white blood cells containing a host factors that scavenge and fight bacteria and other germs. This research has shown our fat cells also have germ fighting capabilities.

Richard Gallo, MD, PhD, professor and chief of dermatology at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues have uncovered a previously unknown role for dermal fat cells, known as adipocytes: They produce antimicrobial peptides that help fend off invading bacteria and other pathogens.

We now show that the fat stem cells are responsible for protecting us. That was totally unexpected. It was not known that adipocytes could produce antimicrobials, let alone that they make almost as much as a neutrophil.”

Acting like a “moat” around our body’s skin “castle”, the immune cells within our skin fat perform a first line of defense, rapidly acting defense against invading bacteria, while our central immune response is getting their “cannons and firearms” ready all around our body’s skin fortress with a broader response.

The scientists exposed mice to a common skin bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, noticing a very quick rise in the number and size of fat cells where the infection was brewing. Even more significant was their finding that the peptides produced by the fat cells worked together  in harmony with our body’s overall germ fighting cells to target and destroy the germs.

Other interesting findings were that those with too little of a fat cell response would have skin infections more often (such as eczema) and those with too much of a fat cell response exhibited inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis or rosacea.

“The scientists confirmed their findings by analyzing S. aureus infections in mice unable to either effectively produce adipocytes or whose fat cells did not express sufficient antimicrobial peptides in general …. In all cases, they found the mice suffered more frequent and severe infections.”

It would seem the key is to keep a healthy layer of protective fat to keep your skin healthy.

A question comes to mind – are those who receive fat injections or any other injections under the skin more prone to infections?

Journal Reference:

  1. L.-j. Zhang, C. F. Guerrero-Juarez, T. Hata, S. P. Bapat, R. Ramos, M. V. Plikus, R. L. Gallo. Dermal adipocytes protect against invasive Staphylococcus aureus skin infection. Science, 2015; 347 (6217): 67 DOI: 10.1126/science.1260972
About Candace

Candy Dye is a Nurse Practitioner and teacher that loves everything about health, wellness, looking beautiful, and being with people who enjoy life and love to have fun!

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