Archive for the ‘Body Fat’ Category

Molecular switch found in mice could lead to future obesity treatments, scientists say

A surprise discovery — that calorie-burning brown fat can be produced experimentally from muscle precursor cells in mice — raises the prospect of new ways to fight obesity and overweight, say scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Reporting in the Aug. 21 issue of the journal Nature, the researchers demonstrated that brown fat, which is known as the “good” form of fat — so called because it burns calories and releases energy, unlike “bad” white fat that simply stores extra calories — can be generated from unspecialized precursors that routinely spawn skeletal muscle.

The team led by Dana-Farber’s Bruce Spiegelman, PhD, showed that a previously known molecular switch, PRDM16, regulates the creation of brown fat from immature muscle cells. They also determined that the process is a two-way street: Knocking out PRDM16 in brown fat cells can convert them into muscle cells. However, Spiegelman called the latter an “experimental lab trick” for which he currently envisions no practical applications.

The “huge surprise” of the study results, he said, was that muscle precursor cells known as “satellite cells” are able to give birth to brown fat cells under the control of PRDM16.

Spiegelman said the finding confirms that PRDM16 is the “master regulator” of brown fat development. The confirmation will spur ongoing research in his laboratory, he said, to see if drugs that rev up PRDM16 in mice — and potentially, in people — could convert white fat into brown fat and thereby treat obesity. Another strategy, he said, might be to transplant brown fat cells into an overweight person to turn on the calorie-burning process.

“I think we now have very convincing evidence that PRDM16 can turn cells into brown fat cells, with the possibility of combating obesity,” said Spiegelman, the senior author of the paper. The lead author is Patrick Seale, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Spiegelman lab.

Another paper in the same issue of Nature described a different trigger of brown fat production, a molecule called BMP7. A commentary in the journal by Barbara Cannon, an internationally recognized researcher in the biology of fat cells at the University of Stockholm, said that the two reports “take us a step closer to the ultimate goal of promoting the brown fat lineage as a potential way of counteracting obesity.”

The Spiegelman group has long studied fat cells both as a model for normal and abnormal cell development, which relates to cancer, and also because fat cells play such a key role in the growing epidemics of obesity and diabetes.

There is much interest in brown fat’s role in regulating metabolism. Rodents and human infants have abundant brown fat that dissipates food energy as heat to protect against the cold. Though human adults have little brown fat, it apparently does have a metabolic function, including the potential to be amplified in some way to combat obesity.

In 2007, Spiegelman and colleagues reported they had inserted PRDM16 genes into white fat precursors, which they implanted under the skin of mice. The PRDM16 switch coaxed the white fat precursors to produce brown fat cells instead of white. To Spiegelman, this suggested the possibility of transplanting PRDM16-equipped white fat precursors into people who are at high risk of becoming obese, to shift their metabolism slightly into a calorie-burning mode.

The new research adds another potential source of brown fat — the muscle cell progenitors, or myoblasts, that exist in the body to replace mature muscle cells as needed. The progenitors, which can be thought of as “adult stem cells,” are committed to becoming specialized muscle cells when activated by appropriate signals, or, as the study revealed, brown fat cells when PDRM16 is turned on. The PRDM16 trigger “is very powerful at what it does,” said Spiegelman, who is also a professor of cell biology at Harvard Medical School.

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Article adapted by MD Sports from original press release.
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Contact: Bill Schaller
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute 

Other authors of the paper include Bryan Bjork, PhD, and David R. Beier, PhD, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Michael Rudnicki, PhD, of the Ottawa Health Research Institute; and Hediye Erdjument-Bromage, PhD, and Paul Tempst, PhD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (www.dana-farber.org) is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States. It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute.

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Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have discovered a process that controls the amount of fat that cells store for use as a back-up energy source. Disruption of this process allows cellular fat to accumulate — a key factor in age-related metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. The study is published today in the online version of Nature.

Discovery of this previously unknown fat-fighting pathway could lead to novel drugs for the treatment of metabolic syndrome (characterized by obesity, blood lipid disorders, and insulin resistance) and for a common liver disease known as “fatty liver” or steatohepatitis. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a common, often “silent” liver disease. Although NASH resembles alcoholic liver disease, it occurs in people who drink little or no alcohol. NASH affects 2 to 5 percent of Americans, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

All cells store lipids, a type of fat, in the form of small droplets that can be broken down for energy when needed. In situations of excessive food intake or in certain diseases such as diabetes or obesity, these lipid droplets become so large that they interfere with normal cell function.

“In this study, we found that the amount of fat stored in these intracellular lipid droplets is controlled through autophagy, a process until now thought to help primarily in digesting and recycling damaged cellular structures,” says Mark Czaja, M.D., professor of medicine at Einstein whose team worked collaboratively on the research with the laboratory of Ana Maria Cuervo, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of developmental & molecular biology, medicine, and anatomy & structural biology at Einstein.

Autophagy, or “self-eating,” is carried out by lysosomes, which function as the cell’s recycling center. In studies of liver cells in culture and in live animals, Dr. Czaja and his colleagues discovered that lysosomes do something never before observed: continuously remove portions of lipid droplets and process them for energy production.

“When food is scarce, autophagy becomes a main source of energy for the cells and this process of digesting lipid droplets is accelerated,” says Dr. Cuervo. “If autophagy slows down, as occurs in aging, the lipid droplets stored in cells keep growing and eventually become so big that they can no longer be degraded.”

This slowdown in fat control appears to trigger a vicious cycle in which the enlarging fat droplets impair autophagy, allowing even more fat to accumulate, and so on, which could eventually contribute to diseases such as diabetes. The researchers noted that therapies aimed at helping autophagy operate more efficiently might prevent disease by keeping fat droplets under control.

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Article adapted by MD Sports from original press release.
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Contact: Deirdre Branley
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Drs. Cuervo and Czaja’s paper, “Autophagy regulates lipid metabolism” is published in the April 1 online version of Nature. Their co-authors at Einstein include Rajat Singh and Susmita Kaushik (primary co-authors), Yongjun Wang, Youqing Xiang, and Inna Novak; as well as Masaaki Komatsu and Keiji Tanaka of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, Japan.

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About Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University

Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University is one of the nation’s premier centers for research, medical education and clinical investigation. It is the home to some 2,000 faculty members, 750 M.D. students, 350 Ph.D. students (including 125 in combined M.D./Ph.D. programs) and 380 postdoctoral investigators. Last year, Einstein received more than $130 million in support from the NIH. This includes the funding of major research centers at Einstein in diabetes, cancer, liver disease, and AIDS. Other areas where the College of Medicine is concentrating its efforts include developmental brain research, neuroscience, cardiac disease, and initiatives to reduce and eliminate ethnic and racial health disparities. Through its extensive affiliation network involving five hospital centers in the Bronx, Manhattan and Long Island – which includes Montefiore Medical Center, The University Hospital and Academic Medical Center for Einstein – the College runs one of the largest post-graduate medical training program in the United States, offering approximately 150 residency programs to more than 2,500 physicians in training. For more information, please visit http://www.aecom.yu.edu.

Lower muscle mass and an increase in body fat are common consequences of growing older.

While exercise is a proven way to prevent the loss of muscle mass, a new study led by McMaster researcher Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky shows that taking a combination of creatine monohydrate (CrM) and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in addition to resistance exercise training provides even greater benefits.

The study to be published on Oct. 3 in PLoS One, an international, peer-reviewed online journal of the Public Library of Science, involved 19 men and 20 women who were 65 years or older and took part in a six-month program of regular resistance exercise training.

In the randomized double blind trial, some of the participants were given a daily supplement of creatine (a naturally produced compound that supplies energy to muscles) and linoleic acid (a naturally occurring fatty acid), while others were given a placebo. All participants took part in the same exercise program.

The exercise training resulted in improvements of functional ability and strength in all participants, but those taking the CrM and CLA showed even greater gains in muscle endurance, an increase in fat-free mass and a decrease in the percentage of body fat.

“This data confirms that supervised resistance exercise training is safe and effective for increasing strength and function in older adults and that a combination of CrM and CLA can enhance some of the beneficial effects of training over a six month period,” said Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and medicine.

This study provides functional outcomes that build on an earlier mechanistic study co-led by Tarnopolsky and Dr. S. Melov at the Buck Institute of Age Research, published in PLoS One this year, which provided evidence that six months of resistance exercise reversed some of the muscle gene expression abnormalities associated with the aging process.
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Article adapted by MD Sports Weblog from original press release.
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Contact: Veronica McGuire
McMaster University

By studying the genes of a German child born with unusually well developed muscles, an international research team has discovered the first evidence that the gene whose loss makes “mighty mice” also controls muscle growth in people.

Writing in the June 24 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, German neurologist Markus Schuelke, M.D., and the team show that the child’s extra-large muscles are due to an inherited mutation that effectively silences the myostatin gene, proving that its protein normally keeps muscle development in check in people.

People with muscle-wasting conditions such as muscular dystrophy, and others just wanting to “bulk up,” have eagerly followed work on myostatin, hoping for a way to counteract the protein’s effects in order to build or rebuild muscle mass. But while research with mice has continued to reveal myostatin’s role and the effects of interfering with it, no one knew whether any of the results would be relevant to humans.

“This is the first evidence that myostatin regulates muscle mass in people as it does in other animals,” says Se-Jin Lee, M.D., Ph.D., professor of molecular biology and genetics in the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences at Johns Hopkins and co-author on the study. “That gives us a great deal of hope that agents already known to block myostatin activity in mice may be able to increase muscle mass in humans, too.”

Lee and his team discovered in 1997 that knocking out the myostatin gene led to mice that were twice as muscular as their normal siblings, lending them the moniker “mighty mice.” Later, others showed that naturally bulky cattle, such as Belgian Blues, got their extra muscles from lack of myostatin, too.

An unusual opportunity to examine myostatin’s role in humans arose when Schuelke examined a newborn baby boy, almost five years ago, and was struck by the visible muscles on the infant’s upper legs and upper arms. When ultrasound proved that the muscles were roughly twice as large as other infants’, but otherwise normal, Schuelke realized that a naturally occurring mutation in the child’s myostatin gene might be the cause.

Sequencing the myostatin gene from the boy and his mother, who had been a professional athlete, revealed a single change in the building blocks of the gene’s DNA. Surprisingly, the change was not in the gene regions that correspond to the resulting protein, but in the intervening regions that are used only to create protein-making instructions, thus changing the gene’s protein-building message.

“The mutation caused the gene’s message, the messenger RNA, to be wrong,” says Hopkins

neurologist Kathryn Wagner, M.D., Ph.D., who tested the genetic mutation’s effect in laboratory studies. “If the message had been used to make a protein, it would be much shorter than it should be. But we think the process doesn’t even get that far; instead the cells just destroy the message.”

Co-authors from Wyeth Research, Cambridge, Mass., analyzed samples of the child’s blood for evidence of the myostatin protein and found none. “Both copies of the child’s myostatin gene have this mutation, so little if any of the myostatin protein is made,” says Schuelke. “As a result, he has about twice the muscle mass of other children.”

Completely lacking myostatin, the boy is stronger than other children his age, and fortunately has no signs of problems with his heart so far, Schuelke says. But he adds that it’s impossible to know whether the lack of myostatin in that crucial muscle might lead to problems as the boy gets older.

While other family members — the boy’s mother and her brother, father and grandfather — were also reported to have been usually strong, only the mother’s DNA was available for analysis along with her son’s. Schuelke discovered that only one copy of the mother’s myostatin gene had the mutation found in both copies of her son’s myostatin gene. (We have two copies of each gene; one inherited from the mother and one inherited from the father.)

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Article adapted by MD Sports Weblog from original press release.
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 Contact: Joanna Downer
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

 

The Johns Hopkins researchers were funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The German researchers were funded by the parents’ self-help group (Helft dem muskelkranken Kind).

Authors on the paper are Schuekle, Christoph Hubner, Thomas Riebel and Wolfgang Komen of Charite, University Medical Center Berlin, Germany; Wagner and Lee of Johns Hopkins; Leslie Stolz and James Tobin of Wyeth Research, Cambridge, Ma.; and Thomas Braun of Martin-Luther-University, Halle-Wittenberg, Germany.

*Under a licensing agreement between MetaMorphix Inc. and The Johns Hopkins University, Lee is entitled to a share of royalty received by the University on sales of products described in this article. Lee also is entitled to a share of sublicensing income from arrangements between MetaMorphix and American Home Products (Wyeth Ayerst Laboratories) and Cape Aquaculture Technologies. Lee and the University own MetaMorphix Inc. stock, which is subject to certain restrictions under University policy. Lee owns Cape Aquaculture Technologies stock, which is subject to certain restrictions under University policy. Lee has served as a paid consultant to MetaMorphix Inc. The terms of these arrangements are being managed by The Johns Hopkins University in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.

Female athletes often lose their menstrual cycle when training strenuously, but researchers have long speculated on whether this infertility was due to low body fat, low weight or exercise itself. Now, researchers have shown that the cause of athletic amenorrhea is more likely a negative energy balance caused by increasing exercise without increasing food intake.”A growing proportion of women are susceptible to losing their menstrual cycle when exercising strenuously,” says Dr. Nancy I. Williams, assistant professor of kineseology and physiology at Penn State. “If women go six to 12 months without having a menstrual cycle, they could show bone loss. Bone densities in some long distance runners who have gone for a prolonged time period without having normal menstrual cycles can be very low.”

In studies done with monkeys, which show menstrual cyclicity much like women, researchers showed that low energy availability associated with strenuous exercise training plays an important role in causing exercise-induced amenorrhea. These researchers, working at the University of Pittsburgh, published findings in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showing that exercise-induced amenorrhea was reversible in the monkeys by increasing food intake while the monkeys still exercised.

Williams worked with Judy L. Cameron, associate professor of psychiatry and cell biology and physiology at the University of Pittsburgh. Dana L. Helmreich and David B. Parfitt, then graduate students, and Anne Caston-Balderrama, at that time a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, were also part of the research team. The researchers decided to look at an animal model to understand the causes of exercise-induced amenorrhea because it is difficult to closely control factors, such as eating habits and exercise, when studying humans. They chose cynomolgus monkeys because, like humans, they have a menstrual cycle of 28 days, ovulate in mid-cycle and show monthly periods of menses.

“It is difficult to obtain rigorous control in human studies, short of locking people up,” says Williams.

Previous cross-sectional studies and short-term studies in humans had shown a correlation between changes in energy availability and changes in the menstrual cycle, but those studies were not definitive.

There was also some indication that metabolic states experienced by strenuously exercising women were similar to those in chronically calorie restricted people. However, whether the increased energy utilization which occurs with exercise or some other effect of exercise caused exercise-induced reproductive dysfunction was unknown.

“The idea that exercise or something about exercise is harmful to females was not definitively ruled out,” says Williams. “That exercise itself is harmful would be a dangerous message to put out there. We needed to look at what it was about exercise that caused amenorrhea, what it was that suppresses ovulation. To do that, we needed a carefully controlled study.”

After the researchers monitored normal menstrual cycles in eight monkeys for a few months, they trained the monkeys to run on treadmills, slowly increasing their daily training schedule to about six miles per day. Throughout the training period the amount of food provided remained the standard amount for a normal 4.5 to 7.5 pound monkey, although the researchers note that some monkeys did not finish all of their food all of the time.

The researchers found that during the study “there were no significant changes in body weight or caloric intake over the course of training and the development of amenorrhea.” While body weight did not change, there were indications of an adaptation in energy expenditure. That is, the monkeys’ metabolic hormones also changed, with a 20 percent drop in circulating thyroid hormone, suggesting that the suppression of ovulation is more closely related to negative energy balance than to a decrease in body weight.

To seal the conclusion that a negative energy balance was the key to exercise-induced amenorrhea, the researchers took four of the previous eight monkeys and, while keeping them on the same exercise program, provided them with more food than they were used to. All the monkeys eventually resumed normal menstrual cycles. However, those monkeys who increased their food consumption most rapidly and consumed the most additional food, resumed ovulation within as little as 12 to 16 days while those who increased their caloric intake more slowly, took almost two months to resume ovulation.

Williams is now conducting studies on women who agree to exercise and eat according to a prescribed regimen for four to six months. She is concerned because recreational exercisers have the first signs of ovulatory suppression and may easily be thrust into amenorrhea if energy availability declines. Many women that exercise also restrict their calories, consciously or unconsciously.

“Our goal is to test whether practical guidelines can be developed regarding the optimal balance between calories of food taken in and calories expended through exercise in order to maintain ovulation and regular menstrual cycles,” says Williams. “This would then ensure that estrogen levels were also maintained at healthy levels. This is important because estrogen is a key hormone in the body for many physiological systems, influencing bone strength and cardiovascular health, not just reproduction.”

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Article adapted by MD Sports Weblog from original press release.
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Contact: A’ndrea Elyse Messer
Penn State