A Purdue University study shows that Notch signaling (see image), a key biological pathway tied to development and cell communication, also plays an important role in the onset of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, a discovery that offers new targets for treatment. A research team led by Dr. Shihuan Kuang, associate professor of animal sciences, found that blocking Notch signaling in the fat tissue of mice caused white fat cells to transform into a "leaner" type of fat known as beige fat. The finding suggests that suppressing Notch signaling in fat cells could reduce the risk of obesity and related health problems, Dr. Kuang said. "This finding opens up a whole new avenue to understanding how fat is controlled at the molecular level," he said. "Now that we know Notch signaling and obesity are linked in this way, we can work on developing new therapeutics." The human body houses three kinds of fat: white, brown, and beige. White fat tissue stores fatty acids and is the main culprit in weight gain. Brown fat, which helps keep hibernating animals and infants warm, burns fatty acids to produce heat. Humans lose most of their brown fat as they mature, but they retain a similar kind of fat - beige fat, which also generates heat by breaking down fatty acids. Buried in white fat tissue, beige fat cells are unique in that they can become white fat cells depending on the body's metabolic needs. White fat cells can also transform into beige fat cells in a process known as browning, which raises the body's metabolism and cuts down on obesity. Dr. Kuang and his team found that the Notch signaling pathway inhibits browning of white fat by regulating expression of genes that are related to beige fat tissue. "The Notch pathway functions like a commander, telling the cell to make white fat," he said.
Login Or Register To Read Full Story