New research suggests a strategy to ward off age-related weight gain

The effects of a slowing metabolism could be reversed.


White adipose tissue (WAT), which stores energy from excessive calorie intake, and brown adipose tissue (BAT), which burns calories to produce heat to regulate body temperature, are the two primary forms of fat in mammals, including humans. Yet, the ability to generate beige adipocytes declines with age, creating a key challenge for their therapeutic potential.

According to a recent study by experts in Cornell‘s Division of Nutritional Sciences, the effects of a slowed metabolism may be reversed by promoting the production of a certain type of fat cells. Scientists show therapeutic promise in a third type of fat, a subtype of WAT: beige fat.

Beige fat helps lower blood sugar and fatty acids that lead to artery hardening and heart disease because it contains the same cellular precursors as white fat and the same thermogenic capabilities as brown fat.

A person’s adipose progenitor cells, which are stem cells, produce thermogenic beige fat cells within white fat when exposed to low temperatures over an extended period. As people get older, the reaction to that stimulus becomes weaker, tilting the scales in favor of the formation of white fat.

Dan Berry, assistant professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, said, “There are seasonal changes in beige fat in young humans, but an older person would have to stand outside in the snow in their underwear to get those same effects.”

In this work, researchers showed how a particular signaling route inhibits the development of beige fat in elderly mice by antagonizing the immune system. The researchers stimulated the creation of beige fat in old animals that would not have produced it otherwise by blocking that route in aging mice.

Journal Reference:

  1. Benvie, A.M., Lee, D., Steiner, B.M. et al. Age-dependent Pdgfrβ signaling drives adipocyte progenitor dysfunction to alter the beige adipogenic niche in male mice. Nature Communications 14, 1806 (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-37386-z
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