Booster Shots

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How a fat cell comes to be

May 18, 2010 |  7:22 pm

Fatcell Look at that fat cell! Lovely, yes? Ever wonder how one forms?

Well, it just so happens that an article in the current issue of the journal Genes and Development describes how immature fat cells pass through a fleeting, previously unappreciated "intermediate-fat-cell" stage before emerging, like a butterfly from a chrysalis, into full, fatty maturity.

Well, maybe not quite like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. But the finding does have implications for drug development.

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that early stage fat cells first enter an intermediate fat-cell stage. The intermediate stage is kick-started by hormones related to cortisol, the stress hormone. All kinds of changes in gene activity happen during this intermediate stage, ones that send the fat cell inexorably down the road to maturity even after the trigger has gone away.

Study author Dr. Mitchell Lazar of Penn suggests that these gene changes may offer clues to drugs that might stop the fat cells from maturing. Leads would seem to be needed, as quite a few anti-obesity candidates have not panned out. (One current hope is Qnexa, a combination of the drugs phentermine and topiramate, currently under review by the Food and Drug Administration.)

Photo credit: Dr. Mitchell A. Lazar, PhD / University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine