Scientists from King’s College London have found that fat cells (adipocytes) in muscle arise from the transformation of resident cells existing within muscle, called fibroblasts. Although an early study, this research could pave the way for treatments aimed at tackling the decline in muscle quality (associated with increased fat and connective tissue) that occurs in ageing, obesity and a number of muscle diseases.
Published today in Journal of Cell Science, the study discovered that fibroblasts, previously thought to be committed only to the production and maintenance of connective tissue, are capable of entirely changing their identity to become fat cells. Identifying the triggers that turn fibroblasts into fat cells could have important implications for helping to prevent the deterioration in muscle that affects mobility and causes falls.
Chibeza Agley and colleagues from the Centre of Human & Aerospace Physiological Sciences at King’s studied cells obtained from the muscles of healthy young people. Professor Stephen Harridge, Director of the Centre, said: ‘We’ve shown that fibroblasts can be triggered to become fat cells, whilst muscle stem cells are resistant to switching cell type in this way.
‘Fibroblasts in muscle are clearly much more interesting than was previously thought. Our findings are also somewhat surprising because fibroblasts, which are present in every tissue in the body, are mainly associated with laying down scar tissue and other healing processes.’
He added: ‘Finding the triggers that either turn these cells into fat cells or activate their fate as producers of connective tissue could have important implications for our understanding of the changes in muscle which accompany ageing, obesity and disease. In the future these cells may prove to be appropriate targets for therapeutic interventions against accumulation of fatty and fibrous tissue.’