Beige (brown) adipocytes convert energy (food, fat, glucose) to heat, a feature of potential therapeutic benefit for obesity and diabetes. Our overall objective is to elucidate the mechanisms that control formation of beige adipocytes and to determine whether and how these processes might be harnessed to treat metabolic diseases, which are at epidemic proportion. Thus there is an urgent need to better understand the mechanisms and molecules that control adiposity and glucose homeostasis. Clinical trials studying young adults show that daily cold exposure induces beige adipocyte formation, increases energy expenditure, and reduces adiposity and glucose levels. This process fails during aging, in concert with decreasing energy expenditure, increasing adiposity and diabetes incidence. That new beige adipocytes form, at least in younger adults, indicates the presence of a putative cold-inducible beige adipogenic stem cell/progenitor. Yet major barriers to unraveling this cold-inducible beige adipose progenitor compartment include lack of reagents, tools, and methods to study and manipulate the progenitor, and the lack of understanding of age-dependent dysfunction, a major clinical impediment. Our published work indicate that we addressed some of these issues, and identified cold-inducible beige adipose progenitors by designing, engineering, and studying mice that express molecular reporters and inducible gene switches in the beige progenitor compartment. These tools enable us to visualize cold-inducible beige adipose progenitors in vivo, to follow their descendants as they divide, migrate and develop into mature beige adipocytes. The tools also allow us to interrogate and manipulate gene function within this key progenitor population. With such approaches, we found that senescence causes the age-dependent failure to induce beige cells in the cold, and that we could reverse the process and rejuvenate old progenitors to produce beige adipocytes through innovative genetic approaches and with drugs. The central focus of this proposal is to use our new tools to delineate the in vivo functions and molecular characteristics of cold-inducible beige adipocyte progenitors, and their age-dependent failure to function; our Preliminary Studies identify novel control mechanisms. We will define these mechanistic underpinnings, we will understand how physiological and pharmacological stimuli regulate the progenitor population, energy expenditure, and adiposity, and we will exploit these insights to therapeutic ends. Our studies are designed to elucidate new aspects of adipose biology and metabolic control, highlighting those that are particularly relevant to new therapies for obesity and diabetes.

Public Health Relevance

The ability to regulate fat storage and metabolism are fundamental processes; however, the dual epidemics of obesity and diabetes endanger millions and are altering our health care landscape. This crisis could be addressed by identifying the cells and genes that control formation and expansion of energy burning brown adipose tissue; we identified a brown (beige) adipocyte progenitor and found that it is important in the normal responses to cold expousre, in the maintenance of adipose tissue mass and in the response to aging. Our goal is to unravel the developmental, physiological and molecular mechanisms underlying these effects, which we believe will enhance our understanding of adipocyte biology and metabolism and may lead to novel therapeutic targets for obesity and diabetes.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Research Project (R01)
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Integrative Physiology of Obesity and Diabetes Study Section (IPOD)
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Haft, Carol R
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University of Texas Sw Medical Center Dallas
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Berry, Daniel C; Jiang, Yuwei; Arpke, Robert W et al. (2017) Cellular Aging Contributes to Failure of Cold-Induced Beige Adipocyte Formation in Old Mice and Humans. Cell Metab 25:166-181