Adipose Tissue: A Safe Haven for Parasites?

Herbert B. Tanowitz, Philipp E. Scherer, Maria M. Mota, Luisa M. Figueiredo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

31 Scopus citations


Adipose tissue (AT) is no longer regarded as an inert lipid storage, but as an important central regulator in energy homeostasis and immunity. Three parasite species are uniquely associated with AT during part of their life cycle: Trypanosoma cruzi, the causative agent of Chagas disease; Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of African sleeping sickness; and Plasmodium spp., the causative agents of malaria. In AT, T. cruzi resides inside adipocytes, T. brucei is found in the interstitial spaces between adipocytes, while Plasmodium spp. infect red blood cells, which may adhere to the blood vessels supplying AT. Here, we discuss how each parasite species adapts to this tissue environment and what the implications are for pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, and therapy. Several pathogens accumulate in AT.Within the AT, pathogens occupy different niches, which means different access to nutrients and different exposure to the immune system.Parasites adapt their gene expression to the tissue environment, which increases the phenotypic diversity of parasites within the host.The exceptional longevity of adipocytes along with a nutrient-dense microenvironment offers an ideal long-term environment for parasites during the chronic stage of the infection.Given that most drugs are designed to be hydrophilic, the persistence of parasites in AT may compromise the efficacy of drug treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalTrends in Parasitology
StateAccepted/In press - 2016


  • Adipocyte
  • Adipose tissue
  • Fat
  • Lipid
  • Malaria
  • Pathogen
  • Trypanosoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Infectious Diseases

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