Leptin metabolically licenses T cells for activation to link nutrition and immunity.


Immune responses are highly energy-dependent processes. Activated T cells increase glucose uptake and aerobic glycolysis to survive and function. Malnutrition and starvation limit nutrients and are associated with immune deficiency and increased susceptibility to infection. Although it is clear that immunity is suppressed in times of nutrient stress, mechanisms that link systemic nutrition to T cell function are poorly understood. We show in this study that fasting leads to persistent defects in T cell activation and metabolism, as T cells from fasted animals had low glucose uptake and decreased ability to produce inflammatory cytokines, even when stimulated in nutrient-rich media. To explore the mechanism of this long-lasting T cell metabolic defect, we examined leptin, an adipokine reduced in fasting that regulates systemic metabolism and promotes effector T cell function. We show that leptin is essential for activated T cells to upregulate glucose uptake and metabolism. This effect was cell intrinsic and specific to activated effector T cells, as naive T cells and regulatory T cells did not require leptin for metabolic regulation. Importantly, either leptin addition to cultured T cells from fasted animals or leptin injections to fasting animals was sufficient to rescue both T cell metabolic and functional defects. Leptin-mediated metabolic regulation was critical, as transgenic expression of the glucose transporter Glut1 rescued cytokine production of T cells from fasted mice. Together, these data demonstrate that induction of T cell metabolism upon activation is dependent on systemic nutritional status, and leptin links adipocytes to metabolically license activated T cells in states of nutritional sufficiency.