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Abdominal fat cells could prevent sepsis

A new CVS study has shown that certain immune cells in abdominal fat tissue could prevent sepsis and other life-threatening infections.

FALC cover cells (green), neutrophils in immune cell clusters in red, visceral adipose tissue (fat cells in yellow)
FALC cover cells (green) are a newly discovered subset of stromal cells triggering the recruitment of neutrophils to immune clusters (immune cells in red) found on visceral adipose tissue (fat cells in yellow) during peritonitis.

These immune cells – located in the wall of tissue that covers the intestines – play a vital role in containing the spread of peritonitis, an abdominal inflammation triggered by infection from perforated intestines.

The study could pave the way for new treatments to combat sepsis, which kills more than 50,000 people in the UK each year and is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide.

The findings, by a team at the Centre for Cardiovascular Science, are significant because peritonitis is the second leading cause of sepsis.

Sepsis occurs when the immune system reacts to infection, causing symptoms such as cold hands and feet, mottled skin and a quickened heart rate. It can quickly lead to multiple organ failure and death.

RNA sequencing

CVS researchers used technology called single cell RNA sequencing – which analyses cells in minute detail – and imaging techniques to study how peritonitis affects the fatty abdominal tissue layer, called the omentum.

They discovered a sub-type of cells on the surface of the omentum that trigger white blood cells – called neutrophils – to capture any contaminants present in the abdomen. 

Future treatments

By defining the key elements responsible in the capture of abdomen contaminants during peritonitis, researchers hope the study could inform future treatments.

They says the findings might also help tackle other conditions where the omentum is important, like endometriosis, surgical adhesions, and ovarian cancer metastasis. 

Identifying new treatments for peritonitis and sepsis is critical to tackling the major medical issue that represents sepsis. We hope that the discovery of how the omentum organises the capture of peritoneal contaminants will help accelerate the development of new treatments for patients with peritonitis.

Dr Cécile BénézechUniversity of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Sciences

According to the Sepsis Trust, five people die with sepsis in the UK every hour. Furthermore, 40 per cent of sepsis survivors suffer permanent life-changing after effects. These staggering statistics highlight the need for additional research in this area. We hope our study will facilitate work to design targeted treatments to help reduce the number of people who develop sepsis.

Dr Lucy Jackson-Jones,Formerly at University of Edinburgh, now at Lancaster University

The study, published in medical journal Immunity, was funded by the Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust.

Related links

Journal article

Dr Cécile Bénézech Research Group

Dr Cécile Bénézech Profile