Background: Macrophages play an important role in regulating adipose tissue function, while their frequencies in adipose tissue vary between individuals. Adipose tissue infiltration by high frequencies of macrophages has been linked to changes in adipokine levels and low-grade inflammation, frequently associated with the progression of obesity. The objective of this project was to assess the contribution of relative macrophage frequencies to the overall subcutaneous adipose tissue gene expression using publicly available datasets. Methods: Seven publicly available microarray gene expression datasets from human subcutaneous adipose tissue biopsies (n = 519) were used together with TissueDecoder to determine the adipose tissue cell-type composition of each sample. We divided the subjects in four groups based on their relative macrophage frequencies. Differential gene expression analysis between the high and low relative macrophage frequencies groups was performed, adjusting for sex and study. Finally, biological processes were identified using pathway enrichment and network analysis. Results: We observed lower frequencies of adipocytes and higher frequencies of adipose stem cells in individuals characterized by high macrophage frequencies. We additionally studied whether, within subcutaneous adipose tissue, interindividual differences in the relative frequencies of macrophages were reflected in transcriptional differences in metabolic and inflammatory pathways. Adipose tissue of individuals with high macrophage frequencies had a higher expression of genes involved in complement activation, chemotaxis, focal adhesion, and oxidative stress. Similarly, we observed a lower expression of genes involved in lipid metabolism, fatty acid synthesis, and oxidation and mitochondrial respiration. Conclusion: We present an approach that combines publicly available subcutaneous adipose tissue gene expression datasets with a deconvolution algorithm to calculate subcutaneous adipose tissue cell-type composition. The results showed the expected increased inflammation gene expression profile accompanied by decreased gene expression in pathways related to lipid metabolism and mitochondrial respiration in subcutaneous adipose tissue in individuals characterized by high macrophage frequencies. This approach demonstrates the hidden strength of reusing publicly available data to gain cell-type-specific insights into adipose tissue function.

Original languageEnglish
Article number675935
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in nutrition
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2021


  • cell-type composition
  • computational deconvolution
  • lipid metabolism
  • low-grade inflammation
  • macrophages
  • publicly available data
  • subcutaneous adipose tissue

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