Increased leptin levels correlate with thyroid autoantibodies in nonobese males.

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OBJECTIVE: Leptin is an adipokine that regulates body weight and appetite. It is also an inflammatory cytokine that influences immune reactivity and autoimmunity. Leptin levels are increased in obesity and are higher in women than in men. We aimed to determine whether leptin levels, independent of sex and body mass index (BMI), are associated with thyroid autoimmunity. DESIGN: This study uses data from The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) to test the association of leptin and thyroid autoimmunity, independent of BMI. MEASUREMENTS: Thyroid-stimulating hormone, thyroxine, antithyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies and leptin levels were measured in 2902 men and 3280 women within the NHANES III population. BMI was calculated from height and weight. RESULTS: Women had significantly higher leptin levels and anti-TPO antibody titres than men. Correlation analyses demonstrated that leptin levels were associated with anti-TPO antibody levels in the total population, but when men and women were analysed separately, this association was lost. We then stratified men and women into obese (BMI > 30) or nonobese (BMI ≤ 30) subgroups and determined the association between leptin levels and anti-TPO antibody titres for each subgroup. Using regression analysis, we found that increased leptin levels correlated with thyroid autoantibodies in nonobese males, but not in obese males or in females. CONCLUSIONS: Leptin levels correlated with thyroid autoantibody titres in nonobese males. This association was not found in females. Sex and body habitus should therefore be considered in studying the role of leptin in other autoimmune conditions.






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MacIver, Nancie J, Steven M Thomas, Cynthia L Green and Gordon Worley (2016). Increased leptin levels correlate with thyroid autoantibodies in nonobese males. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf), 85(1). pp. 116–121. 10.1111/cen.12963 Retrieved from

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Nancie Jo MacIver

Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics

My laboratory is broadly interested in how large changes in nutritional status (e.g. malnutrition or obesity) influence T cell immunity.  Malnutrition can lead to immunodeficiency and increased risk of infection, whereas obesity is associated with inflammation that promotes multiple diseases including autoimmunity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  We have identified the adipocyte-secreted hormone leptin as a critical link between nutrition and immunity.  Leptin is secreted from adipocytes in proportion to adipocyte mass and is therefore decreased in malnutrition and increased in obesity.  We have found that leptin is a critical regulator of effector T cell glucose metabolism and thereby drives effector T cell activation.  From these initial findings, we have established further lines of investigation, as summarized here.

(1) Determining molecular mechanisms of T cell dysfunction in malnutrition – Our goal is to identify metabolic and epigenetic mechanisms by which malnutrition and decreased leptin alter T cell function leading to increased susceptibility to infection and protection against autoimmune diseases.  We study this using a mouse model of autoimmunity, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).

(2) Elucidating mechanisms of T cell inflammation in obesity-induced type 2 diabetes – Our goal is to identify molecular and metabolic mechanisms by which obesity alters the Teff/Treg balance, resulting in inflammation and subsequent insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes.  With our collaborators from UNC Chapel Hill, we are also identifying immunometabolic changes in obese animals and humans that correlate with increased susceptibility to influenza.

(3) Determining the role of insulin and IGF-1 in regulating T cell function and metabolism – Our goal is to identify how insulin influences both T cell glucose uptake and T cell differentiation/cytokine production and determine the role of insulin signaling in T cells in the setting of obesity-associated diabetes.  We hypothesize that insulin has a direct role in T cell function through its abiltiy to alter T cell glucose metabolism, influence T cell cytokine production, and impact the pathophysiology of obesity-associated type 2 diabetes. 


Cynthia Lea Green

Associate Professor of Biostatistics & Bioinformatics

Survival Analysis
Longitudinal Data Analysis
Logistic Regression
Missing Data
Clinical Trial Methods
Maximum Likelihood Methods


Gordon Worley

Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics

Dr. Gordon Worley specializes in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities, a sub-specialty of Pediatrics focusing on  the management of the medical problems of children with physical disabilities. The principal diagnoses he treats are cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and Down syndrome. HIs research pertains to clinical problems of children with these conditions. Current research interests include genetic factors influencing outcomes of Extremely Low Birth Weight Infants using analyses of a large data set; comparison of outcomes of prenatal (in utero) surgery vs postnatal  for lesion closure in meningomyelocele using the National Spina Bifida Patient Registry; Down Syndrome Disintegrative Disorder; and associations of ADHD with high risk sexual behaviors using analyses of a large data set.

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