Research highlight

Converting stem cells into fat-producing cells

Nature Cell Biology

January 16, 2012

The efficient production of the two types of human fat-producing cells ― known as white and brown adipocytes ― from human pluripotent stem cells is reported online this week in Nature Cell Biology. The work may hold therapeutic potential for conditions that are associated with high brown adipose tissue activity and thus lower body mass index (BMI). Researchers studying disease with human pluripotent stem cells, derived either from human embryos or obtained through directed reprogramming of adult cells, need an efficient way of differentiating them into the relevant adult cell types. In addition, current methods for obtaining white and brown adipocytes from other sources are relatively inefficient. Chad Cowan and colleagues now show that by taking pluripotent stem cells and expressing factors previously linked to adipocyte induction, almost 90% differentiate into brown or white adipocytes in mice. These cells display mature functional properties, including lipid catabolism and responsiveness to insulin, and when placed into mice they develop into ectopic fat pads resembling white or brown adipose tissue. This research should be of immediate use to scientists interested in studying obesity and other adipocyte-associated disorders.

doi: 10.1038/ncb2411

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