A three-dimensional human adipocyte model of fatty acid-induced obesity Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Abstract Obesity prevalence has reached pandemic proportions, leaving individuals at high risk for the development of diseases such as cancer and type 2 diabetes. In obesity, to accommodate excess lipid storage, adipocytes become hypertrophic, which is associated with an increased pro-inflammatory cytokine secretion and dysfunction of metabolic processes such as insulin signaling and lipolysis. Targeting adipocyte dysfunction is an important strategy to prevent the development of obesity-associated disease. However, it is unclear how accurately animal models reflect human biology, and the long-term culture of human hypertrophic adipocytes in an in vitro 2D monolayer is challenging due to the buoyant nature of adipocytes. Here we describe the development of a human 3D in vitro disease model that recapitulates hallmarks of obese adipocyte dysfunction. First, primary human adipose-derived mesenchymal stromal cells are embedded in hydrogel, and infiltrated into a thin cellulose scaffold. The thin microtissue profile allows for efficient assembly and image-based analysis. After adipocyte differentiation, the scaffold is stimulated with oleic or palmitic acid to mimic caloric overload. Using functional assays, we demonstrated that this treatment induced important obese adipocyte characteristics such as a larger lipid droplet size, increased basal lipolysis, insulin resistance and a change in macrophage gene expression through adipocyte-conditioned media. This 3D disease model mimics physiologically relevant hallmarks of obese adipocytes, to enable investigations into the mechanisms by which dysfunctional adipocytes contribute to disease.


  • Pieters, Vera M
  • Rjaibi, Saifedine T
  • Singh, Kanwaldeep
  • Li, Nancy T
  • Khan, Safwat T
  • Nunes, Sara S
  • Dal Cin, Arianna
  • Gilbert, Penney M
  • McGuigan, Alison P

publication date

  • October 1, 2022