Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have successfully disabled a gene in specific mouse cells, preventing mice from becoming obese even after being fed a high-fat diet.
Macrophages, vital inflammatory cells which are responsible for detecting, engulfing and destroying pathogens, were blocked by scientists. Since obesity is correlated with chronic low-grade inflammation, the researchers tested if reducing inflammation could help control weight gain and obesity.
The study was published on April 20, 2020, in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.
According to Steven L. Teitelbaum, MD, the principal investigator of the study and Wilma and Roswell Messing Professor of Pathology & Immunology, their study has developed a proof of concept that it is possible to regulate weight gain by modulating the activity of the inflammatory cells.
He adds that it might work in several ways, but their team believed that it might be able to control obesity and its complications by managing inflammation better.
Calories in Mice
Research from Touro College in New York suggests that obese individuals burn fewer calories than those who aren't. The same is also accurate with mice.
However, according to Wei Zou, MD, PhD, a co-author of the study and assistant professor of pathology and immunology, they found that obese mice managed the same level of calorie-burning as mice that were not obese.
This first happened after the team deleted the ASXL2 gene in the macrophages of the obese mice. In the second set of experiments, they also got the same result after injecting the mice with nanoparticles that meddle with the gene's activity.
Regardless of being fed high-fat diets, the treated mice burned 45% more calories than the obese mice with an active gene in macrophages. Scientists aren't quite sure how it prevented obesity in mice.
Fatty Liver Disease
According to Teitelbaum, a large percentage of Americans currently have fatty livers because their fat deposits cannot take up the fat they consume, causing the fat to go somewhere else.
A newsletter from Harvard reports that fatty liver disease happens when some of the fat molecules accumulate inside liver cells. The presence of those fattened cells can then lead to inflammation in the liver and cause damage to surrounding liver tissue. Scientists claim that the epidemics of obesity and diabetes are accountable for the disease.
He added that despite the mice consuming diets high in fat, they didn't get fatty livers. Teitelbaum believes that confining the inflammatory effects of their macrophages allows them to burn more fat. In return, this keeps the mice healthier and leaner.
Nidhi Rohatgi, another co-author of the study, and an instructor in pathology, explained that it appeared to have something to do with getting white fat cells to behave like brown fat cells.
White fat cells store fat that makes us obese while brown fat cells help to burn stored fat. The study's approach is a long way from becoming a therapy, but researchers believe that it has the potential to help obese people burn fat at rates similar to proportions seen in lean people.