In a study from Yale University, scientists reveal why belly fat surrounding organs increases as people age.
The finding could offer new treatment possibilities for improving metabolic health, thereby reducing the likelihood of diseases like diabetes and atherosclerosis that stem from inflammation.
Previous work found that as people age, their body’s ability to generate energy by burning belly fat is reduced. Consequently, fat that surrounds the internal organs increases in the elderly.
The team in the past had found that the immune cells necessary to the fat-burning process, called macrophages, were still active but their overall numbers declined as belly fat increased with aging.
In the current study, they found that something else is happening as well. Adipose B cells in belly fat unexpectedly proliferated as animals aged, contributing to increased inflammation and metabolic decline.
Normally the B cells produce antibodies and defend against infection. But with aging, the increased adipose B cells become dysfunctional, contributing to metabolic disease.
When they are working correctly, some B cells expand as needed to protect the body from infection, and then contract to baseline. But with aging, they don’t contract in belly fat.
The team theorizes that this ongoing expansion may be due to increased human life expectancy—a pushing of the body’s cells beyond their evolutionary limits.
The researchers found that by reducing the macrophage signal and by removing adipose B cells, they could reverse the expansion process, and protect against an age-induced decline in metabolic health.
This could lead to exciting possibilities for repurposing drugs to target these dysfunctional adipose B cells for improved health outcomes and to protect against metabolic disease.
One drug, called cytokine IL-1B, reduces one of the small proteins driving this process and is currently used to protect against heart disease.
It’s important to study whether reducing this cytokine in the elderly can lower B cell expansion in belly fat.
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The study was conducted by Dr. Vishwa Deep Dixit et al and published in Cell Metabolism.
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