Experiments conducted in Brazil by researchers at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and the University of São Paulo (USP) showed that visceral fat contributes more to severe COVID-19 than subcutaneous fat.

To reach this conclusion, Marcelo Mori, a professor at UNICAMP’s Institute of Biology and one of the leaders of the study, infected in the laboratory two types of adipocytes (fat cells): one obtained from human stem cells isolated from subcutaneous tissue and the other differentiated from stem cells taken from visceral fatty tissue.

“It was possible to observe that visceral adipocytes are more susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2. Viral load increased far more in this fat cell type than in subcutaneous adipocytes. We believe this was due mainly to higher levels of the protein ACE-2 [ to which the virus binds to invade cells] on the cell surface,” Mori told Agência FAPESP.

The researchers also found that when visceral adipocytes were infected, they produced a larger amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which warn the immune system of the existence of a threat to be combated.