Understanding the biology of the couch potato

By | Health & Wellness
The creation and expansion of adipose (fat) cells has been shown to be caused by chronic pressure, according to new research, such as prolonged periods of sitting down. Credit image@ BruceBlaus, wikimediacommons

Fats have been a major talking point over the last few decades. Fats are indeed an essential compound of our body, with every cell being made up of lipids to some degree. However, the type of fat and its place within our tissue, as well as the increased intake in many individuals across the globe, has made obesity a world wide condition requiring the attention of major health organizations and leading specialists alike.

New research from an Israeli team has shed light on the mechanical process of fat deposition, known as adipogenesis, publishing their results in the scientific journal Biophysical Journal.

Fat plays an important role in life and structural processes in many organisms. Indeed, some lipids form the cell membranes of almost every living tissue on earth, creating what is known as a phospholipid bilayer. In humans, fat is typically a back up source of energy, where excess calories consumed are incorporated into adipose tissue and stored for later use.

As well as organ protection, fats are also used to create molecules, such as steroid hormones like testosterone, with the compound also allowing the absorption of certain fat-soluble vitamins.

However, sedentary lifestyles and high-calorie diets have meant that a growing number of the population is becoming obese.

In order to gather a better understanding of how fat “grows” at a cellular level, the team, made up of specialists from the Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, used atomic force microscopy (AFM) and interferometric phase microscopy (IPM) in order to analyze the mechanical properties of adipocytes (fat cells).

The reasoning was that the increase of fat deposition in adipocytes was a mechanosensitive process, meaning it is sensitive to mechanical stimuli or pressure, and thus should be influenced by similar properties of the fat cells.

The results from their experiments showed that nutrition worked in tandem with other major factors that cause obesity, with the deposition of fat coming from an interesting pathway.

When adipocytes are submitted to pressure over a long period of time (a mechanical stimulus), the Israeli researchers showed that there was an increased fat deposition via a faster growth of lipid droplets within the cells. Such pressure could be homologous to sitting down on a chair for a length of time, promoting fat deposition in that area.

And rather than decrease in mechanical capability and size, as would a chronically sedentary muscle for example, these adipocytes showed an increase of up to fifty per cent expansion of the fat stores within the cells following a period of loading.

Using the aforementioned technology, the scientists were able to see the mechanical changes of the fat cells, which promoted stiffness of the cellular structure, as well as how the expansion of these cells caused neighboring ones to alter too.

Speaking to the American Friends of the Tel Aviv University,co-author Professor Amit Gefen evaluated the significance of their findings, underlining how the knowledge of how cells synthesize compounds under varying mechanical stimuli would help create practical solutions in order to help obese individuals.

Furthermore, by creating a platform for the understanding of fat deposition, particularly at the cellular level, the team hopes to stimulate further research into the subject, as well as develop therapeutic methods to help halt fat deposition or even reverse it.

There are a large number of sedentary jobs here in the UK, what are your tips to staying fit and healthy?

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