Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation researchers have identified a cell that sets off the process of scarring in fatty tissue. These findings represent new insights into the biological processes that occur in obesity cases that can lead to diabetes. The results from this project were published in the June 1 issue of the journal Genes & Development.
Using experimental models, Olson and his team found that by stimulating a particular growth factor (known as platelet-derived growth factor, or PDGF) that occurs naturally in the body, they could cause certain undifferentiated cells to develop into scar tissue. But when the researchers didn’t activate the growth factor, those cells continued on their normal fate and became fat cells.
When tissues are injured or under stress they start producing a chemical called PDGF to stimulate the repair of wounds. However, too much of this growth factor can cause scar tissue; the body needs a healthy balance of PDGF activity to ensure that tissues are being properly repaired.
Fibrosis is also associated with an early event in the process that leads to diabetes. According to estimates from the American Diabetes Association, diabetes affects almost 30 million people in the United States.
“When fat cells are surrounded by scar tissue, it inhibits their ability to store lipids. When that happens, the lipids are stored in places like the liver or muscle. That can cause insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes,” explained Olson.
In future projects, Olson and his team will assess the PDGF pathway to understand how it disrupts the destiny of the fat cells. “By studying the molecular mechanisms involved in the process, we’ll try to understand the role it may play in heart disease, diabetes and other metabolic disorders,” he said.
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