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Leptin, malnutrition, and immune response in rural Gambian children
  1. S E Moore1,
  2. G Morgan1,
  3. A C Collinson1,
  4. J A Swain2,
  5. M A O’Connell2,
  6. A M Prentice1
  1. 1MRC Keneba, MRC Laboratories, PO Box 273, Fajara, Banjul, The Gambia, West Africa; and MRC International Nutrition Group, Public Health Nutrition Unit, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2MRC Human Nutrition Research, The Elsie Widdowson Laboratory, Fulbourn Road, Cambridge CB1 9LR, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr S E Moore, MRC International Nutrition Group, Public Health Nutrition Unit, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, 49–51 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3DP, UK;


Background: The adipocyte derived hormone, leptin, has cytokine like function and may mediate the effects of starvation on immunity. Mice with congenital leptin deficiency (ob/ob) have small hypocellular thymuses and impaired cellular immunity. In humans leptin influences the differentiation of naïve and memory cells in vitro, and genetic leptin deficiency has been associated with an ill defined susceptibility to infection.

Aims: To describe the in vivo relation of leptin and immune function in children.

Methods: Fasting plasma leptin concentrations, immune function (T and B cell mediated vaccine responses and delayed type hypersensitivity), and mucosal function (dual sugar permeability test and salivary sIgA concentrations) were measured in a cohort of 472 moderately undernourished rural Gambian children.

Results: Leptin concentrations correlated with body fat assessed by mid upper arm circumference or BMI for age Z scores, and were very low compared to well nourished European norms (males 1.8 v 11.1 ng/ml; females 2.4 v 13.8 ng/ml). No detectable relations were found between leptin concentrations and any of the measures of immune or mucosal function.

Conclusions: The data confirm that leptin acts as a peripheral signal of energy restriction, but do not support an association between fasting plasma leptin levels and immune function in children of this age.

  • leptin
  • malnutrition
  • immune response
  • Gambia
  • ACT, α1 antichymotrypsin
  • BMI, body mass index
  • CMI, cell mediated immunity
  • DTH, delayed type hypersensitivity
  • IL, interleukin
  • MUAC, mid upper arm circumference
  • sIgA, secretory immunoglobulin A
  • TNFα, tumour necrosis factor alpha
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  • This work was funded by the UK Medical Research Council with additional financial support from the Nestlé Foundation and the Nutricia Research Foundation

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