Obesity: Not just what you eat—Research shows fat mass in cells expands with disuse

Obesity: Not just what you eat--Research shows fat mass in cells expands with disuse

Over 35 percent of American adults and 17 percent of American children are considered obese, according to the latest survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Associated with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even certain types of cancer, obesity places a major burden on the health care system and economy. It's usually treated through a combination of diet, nutrition, exercise, and other techniques.

To understand how obesity develops, Prof. Amit Gefen, Dr. Natan Shaked and Ms. Naama Shoham of Tel Aviv University's Department of Biomedical Engineering, together with Prof. Dafna Benayahu of TAU's Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, used state-of-the-art technology to analyze the accumulation of fat in the body at the . According to their findings, nutrition is not the only factor driving obesity. The mechanics of "cellular expansion" plays a primary role in , they discovered.

By exposing the mechanics of fat production at a cellular level, the researchers offer insight into the development of obesity. And with a better understanding of the process, the team is now creating a platform to develop new therapies and technologies to prevent or even reverse fat gain. The research was published this week in the Biophysical Journal.

Getting to the bottom of obesity

"Two years ago, Dafna and I were awarded a grant from the Israel Science Foundation to investigate how mechanical forces increase the within fat cells. We wanted to find out why a sedentary lifestyle results in obesity, other than making time to eat more hamburgers," said Prof. Gefen. "We found that fat cells exposed to sustained, chronic pressure—such as what happens to the buttocks when you're sitting down—experienced accelerated growth of lipid droplets, which are molecules that carry fats.

"Contrary to muscle and bone tissue, which get mechanically weaker with disuse, fat depots in fat cells expanded when they experienced sustained loading by as much as 50%. This was a substantial discovery."

The researchers discovered that, once it accumulated lipid droplets, the structure of a cell and its mechanics changed dramatically. Using a cutting-edge atomic force microscope and other microscopy technologies, they were able to observe the material composition of the transforming fat cell, which became stiffer as it expanded. This stiffness alters the environment of surrounding cells by physically deforming them, pushing them to change their own shape and composition.

"When they gain mass and change their composition, expanding cells deform neighboring cells, forcing them to differentiate and expand," said Prof. Gefen. "This proves that you're not just what you eat. You're also what you feel—and what you're feeling is the pressure of increased weight and the sustained loading in the tissues of the buttocks of the couch potato."

The more you know …

"If we understand the etiology of getting fatter, of how cells in fat tissues synthesize nutritional components under a given mechanical loading environment, then we can think about different practical solutions to ," Prof. Gefen says. "If you can learn to control the mechanical environment of cells, you can then determine how to modulate the to produce less fat."

The team hopes that its observations can serve as a point of departure for further research into the changing cellular environment and different stimulations that lead to increased production.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

'Just chill?' Relaxing can make you fatter

Dec 01, 2011

Conventional wisdom says that exercise is a key to weight loss — a no-brainer. But now, Tel Aviv University researchers are revealing that life as a couch potato, stretched out in front of the TV, can actually be "active ...

Putting the squeeze on fat cells

Nov 22, 2010

From fad diets to exercise programs, Americans continue to fight the battle of the bulge. Now they'll have help from recent Tel Aviv University research that has developed a new method to look at how fat cells -- which produce ...

Reducing liver protein SIRT1 levels

Jan 22, 2014

A new study led by Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) demonstrates that the abnormal metabolism linked to obesity could be regulated in part by the interaction of two metabolic regulators, called the NAD-dependent ...

Recommended for you

Nearly 30% of world population is overweight: study

23 hours ago

More than 2.1 billion people globally—or nearly 30 percent of the world's population—are now overweight or obese, with the figure set to rise further by 2030, according to a study published Thursday.

Report: Global obesity costs hits $2 trillion

Nov 20, 2014

The global cost of obesity has risen to $2 trillion annually—nearly as much as smoking or the combined impact of armed violence, war and terrorism, according to a new report released Thursday.

Small cash rewards pay off in weight loss plans

Nov 20, 2014

People who received small cash bonuses for their degree of participation in an Internet weight loss program shed more pounds than those who were not offered bonuses and they kept much of the weight off, according to a new ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.