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Fat Cells Communicate with Nerve Cells

Fat Cells Communicate with Nerve Cells

Thursday, October 18, 2001

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Researchers have discovered that fat cells have the ability to communicate with nerve cells outside the brain and may have more control over their own destiny than previously thought.

In the study, the researchers grew fat cells and nerve cells in the same container separated by a thin membrane.

The investigators found that the fat cells sent a chemical signal to the nerve cells to increase production of neuropeptide Y (NPY). NPY is a chemical known to signal the brain to stop burning fat and to start eating.

However, the exact chemical that is secreted by the fat cells to tell nerve cells to make NPY is still unknown, according to Dr. Christine Turtzo of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, and colleagues. Their findings are published in the October 16th issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Based on the current findings, Turtzo told Reuters Health that nerve cells outside the brain have the ability to secrete NPY and keep fat cells in storage, as opposed to using them for energy output.

Essentially, there are "fat cells telling the nerve cells, 'Don't stimulate me,'" co-author Dr. Daniel Lane told Reuters Health in an interview.

The researchers hope that the findings will help them to understand more about why certain types of fat cells are more likely to be associated with ill health.

For instance, people with a greater proportion of fat cells that are stored in the abdomen region of the body as opposed to those stored underneath the skin anywhere in the body are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and diabetes, Turtzo explained.

"We don't know why the two different types of fat cells behave differently, but we know that fat in the abdomen has a greater amount of nerves associated with them," she added.

"If you can control what the fat cell is doing then you might be able to control the problem (of obesity)," Lane said.

SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2001;98:12385-

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