Long noncoding RNAs control development of fat cells

February 13, 2013, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research

Whitehead Institute researchers have identified a previously unrecognized layer of genetic regulation that is necessary for the generation of undesirable white fat cells. When this regulation is disrupted, white fat cells are unable to accumulate lipid droplets or mature from their precursors.

"We're trying to figure out what the mechanism is—what it takes to make ," says Whitehead Founding Member Harvey Lodish, who is also a professor of biology and a professor of bioengineering at MIT. "The obvious reason we're interested in this is because a lot of people have too many of them."

According to the , obesity—having a (BMI) of 30 or higher—is a serious healthcare and economic problem in the United States. More than one-third of American adults are obese, a condition that can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. In 2008 obesity-related issues were estimated to cost $147 billion.

All of these problems are caused by an overabundance of white fat cells—adipose that store excess energy as fat or . Unlike white fat cells, brown fat cells, which are most prevalent in babies and have a reduced presence in adults, use lipids as fuel to maintain a stable, warm body temperature. Understanding how both types of fat cells are formed and maintained may one day lead to anti-obesity therapies.

In the quest to understand fat- and maintenance, the Lodish lab scanned mouse fat cells to determine which of the cells' long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) are active. Of the 175 identified, 10 lncRNAs were found to play significant roles in these cells.

Residing within what was once dubbed "", lncRNAs have recently gained fame as important gene expression regulators that modify chromatin, enhance transcription, and promote (mRNA) degradation, as well as through other methods that have yet to be elucidated. Recently, the Lodish lab identified lncRNAs as playing a vital role in regulating programmed cell death during one of the final stages of red blood cell differentiation.

To determine the function of the identified active lncRNAs in fat cells, Lei Sun, a former postdoctoral researcher in the Lodish lab, and Loyal Goff from Harvard University and the Broad Institute, knocked each lncRNA down individually in fat precursor cells and analyzed the results. When 10 of these lncRNAs had reduced expression, the cells did not turn on the genes that are usually expressed in mature white fat cells, and the cells had significantly smaller lipid droplets than white fat cells with normal lncRNA expression. Their work is reported in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This is the first study showing the importance of lncRNAs for the regulation of adipogeneis," says Sun, who is now an assistant professor at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School. "Our understanding of lncRNA function in these cells is still incomplete, but in the future, this line of research may reveal new pathways that obesity drugs could target."

Explore further: Long non-coding RNA prevents the death of maturing red blood cells

More information: "Long noncoding RNAs regulate adipogenesis" PNAS, February 11, 2013.

Related Stories

Long non-coding RNA prevents the death of maturing red blood cells

December 7, 2011
A long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) regulates programmed cell death during one of the final stages of red blood cell differentiation, according to Whitehead Institute researchers. This is the first time a lncRNA has been found ...

Calorie-burning brown fat is a potential obesity treatment, researchers say

June 6, 2011
A new study suggests that many adults have large amounts of brown fat, the "good" fat that burns calories to keep us warm, and that it may be possible to make even more of this tissue.

Recommended for you

Evening hours may pose higher risk for overeating, especially when under stress, study finds

January 16, 2018
Experiments with a small group of overweight men and women have added to evidence that "hunger hormone" levels rise and "satiety (or fullness) hormone" levels decrease in the evening. The findings also suggest that stress ...

Bariatric surgery prolongs lifespan in obese

January 16, 2018
Obese, middle-age men and women who had bariatric surgery have half the death rate of those who had traditional medical treatment over a 10-year period, reports a study that answers questions about the long-term risk of the ...

Sugar-sweetened drinks linked to overweight and obesity in children, adults: Analysis of new studies

December 23, 2017
A new review of the latest evidence on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs)- which includes 30 new studies published between 2013 and 2015 (and none of them industry sponsored) - concludes that SSB consumption is associated with ...

As income rises, women get slimmer—but not men

December 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—A comprehensive survey on the widening American waistline finds that as paychecks get bigger, women's average weight tends to drop.

Policy and early intervention can curb obesity rates

December 18, 2017
More information and emphasis on dietary lifestyle changes that prevent obesity, and its comorbidities, have not reduced the rise in obesity in U.S. adults and adolescents, according to a recent study in the New England Journal ...

Warning labels can help reduce soda consumption and obesity, new study suggests

December 15, 2017
Labels that warn people about the risks of drinking soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages can lower obesity and overweight prevalence, suggests a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study.

0 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.