APR 21, 2018 9:27 AM PDT

An Unhealthy Diet can Permanently Disrupt Fat Cells

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Our bodies need different types of cells, so generic cells go through a process in which they become highly specialized to perform specific tasks, enabling all the parts of us to function correctly. New work has shown that the precursors that specialize to become fat cells can be rapidly altered by environmental factors, in particular, two molecules that are associated with fatty food intake, and inflammation. It has been suggested that cell development is impacted by outside influences, but the mechanisms behind this effect have not been known. This work has now identified one such mechanism; the study, by scientists at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen, has been reported in the International Journal of Obesity.

“Our results stress the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle for our metabolic health in the years to come. To a large extent, a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle can help prevent the reprogramming of our precursor cells. In the long term, we hope our study may be at the origin of new strategies to reverse the abnormal programming of fat precursor cells, making them healthy and functional once again,” said the leader of the study, Romain Barrès.

In this research, the scientists found that precursor fat cells are impacted by both fatty acid palmitate (from the intake of palm oil, dairy products, and meat), as well as the hormone TNF-alpha (an inflammatory hormone that the body releases during illness). TNF-alpha is also found at higher levels in obese people compared to people of healthy weight. These molecules disrupt the development of fat cells, reprogramming them epigenetically. That causes them to be dysfunctional later on life. The researchers found that in type 2 diabetes patients, cells had been reprogrammed in this way.

While our genes remain mostly the same throughout life, small modifications might be made to those genes that change how they are expressed or activated, epigenetic alterations that are tagged onto genes. Scientists are starting to link some of these epigenetic tags to changes in our biology. 

The investigators used fat specimens collected from various surgeries. Of the 43 operations, 15 were performed on lean patients, 14 patients were obese, and 14 had type 2 diabetes and were obese. The state of precursor fat cells from the patients was then compared; in the diabetic individuals, reprogramming had occurred in their cells, making them abnormal. 

Next, healthy precursor fat cells were exposed to TNF-alpha and palmitate for only 24 hours. That exposure was enough to induce reprogramming, mimicking what was seen in the diabetics. 

The scientists want to find out if the reprogramming can be reversed to make the cells healthy again, but they don’t yet know how it could be done.

“We now know that precursors cells can be reprogrammed in a way that function is impaired at the final stage of their development, but so far no one has discovered how to reverse the process. But it is a promising field,” concluded Romain Barrès.

 

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! Via University of Copenhagen, International Journal of Obesity

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
MAR 15, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
MAR 15, 2020
Insight Into Neuronal Growth and Memory Formation
Now scientists have learned more about the transport of mRNA in neurons, and the storage and formation of memories.
APR 13, 2020
Immunology
APR 13, 2020
Macrophages: An Origin Story
Macrophages are well-known defense cells of the immune system, responsible for utilizing the cellular breakdown process ...
MAY 06, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 06, 2020
SARS-CoV-2 Can Infect Intestinal Cells
Once thought to cause symptoms that primarily affect the respiratory system, there has been evidence that the virus can ...
MAY 12, 2020
Microbiology
MAY 12, 2020
Understanding How Giant Viruses Can Infect Cells
Melting permafrost has been revealing some remarkably well-preserved and extremely old stuff, like a prehistoric puppy a ...
MAY 20, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 20, 2020
Researchers Detect a Vulnerability in Viruses
Myriad organisms share this planet, and there is an ongoing evolutionary arms race between competing traits or species, ...
MAY 22, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 22, 2020
Some Coral Turn Neon When Stressed
Corals are immobile animals, and coral reefs are considered to be the most diverse ecosystems in the sea.
Loading Comments...