News Release

The role of intra-abdominal fat in IBD uncovered

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Gastroenterological Association

The Role of Intra-Abdominal Fat in IBD Uncovered

image: Intra-abdominal fat cells may contribute to the development and progression of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), according to a study published in <em>Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology</em>, the basic science journal of the American Gastroenterological Association. view more 

Credit: American Gastroenterological Association

Bethesda, MD (Aug. 5, 2015) -- Intra-abdominal fat cells may contribute to the development and progression of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), according to a study1 published in Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the basic science journal of the American Gastroenterological Association.

"A well-appreciated feature of IBD, especially longstanding Crohn's disease, is intra-abdominal fat, also known as 'creeping fat,' which wraps around the intestine. However, it's not clear whether this fat is protective or harmful," said study author Charalabos Pothoulakis, MD, from the University of California, Los Angeles. "Our study offers insight into this phenomenon. We found that intra-abdominal fat cells may normally be programmed to dampen inflammation but, in fact, have acquired a tendency to promote inflammation in IBD."

A major reason the role of creeping fat in IBD has remained elusive is that its study is inherently difficult. Specifically, creeping fat generally does not exist in healthy patients, which makes controlled studies a challenge. To surmount this problem, Dr. Pothoulakis and colleagues isolated and cultured pre-intra-abdominal fat cells from healthy persons and those with IBD, including both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis patients. They observed that signaling mediators produced by intra-abdominal fat cells from healthy subjects differ markedly from those produced by intra-abdominal fat cells from patients with IBD. This suggests that intra-abdominal fat is certainly not an innocent bystander in gut immunity and inflammation, but rather an active participant in the process.

Remarkably, the responses of fat cells from ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease patients differed. Previous observations suggested a possible role of creeping fat in the pathophysiology of Crohn's alone; however, this is the first evidence that intra-abdominal fat tissue may be involved in the development of ulcerative colitis, as well.

Despite anatomic evidence of fat cells' involvement in disease processes, this study is the first to demonstrate differential disease-dependent responses in human fat cells to inflammatory mediators. Future studies are needed to better understand how inflammation promotes generation of creeping fat and the therapeutic potential of targeting fat cells or their products.

"This research provides new insight that may lead to future targeting of intra-abdominal fat cells for therapeutic benefit," said Jerrold R. Turner, MD, PhD, AGAF, co-author of this study and editor-in-chief, Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology.


The authors have no conflicts to disclose.

1 Pothoulakis, Charalabos, et al. Substance P mediates pro-inflammatory cytokine release form mesenteric adipocytes in Inflammatory Bowel Disease patients, Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2015: 1(4): 420-432

About the AGA Institute

The American Gastroenterological Association is the trusted voice of the GI community. Founded in 1897, the AGA has grown to include more than 16,000 members from around the globe who are involved in all aspects of the science, practice and advancement of gastroenterology. The AGA Institute administers the practice, research and educational programs of the organization.

About Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology

CMGH is the newest peer-reviewed journal published by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA). The mission of CMGH is to publish impactful digestive biology research that ranges from mechanisms of normal function to pathobiology and covers a broad spectrum of themes in gastroenterology, hepatology and pancreatology. The journal reports the latest advances in cell biology, immunology, physiology, microbiology, genetics and neurobiology of gastrointestinal, hepatobiliary, and pancreatic health and disease. For more information, visit

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