Research Brief

Study shows why visceral fat increases with age and impairs metabolism

Adipose Cells
Credit: Getty/Dr_Microbe

Aging is associated with increased inflammation and metabolic disease, including the accumulation of visceral fat — fat stored in the abdominal cavity — which is thought to contribute to inflammation. New research from University of Minnesota faculty member Christina Camell has helped uncover why visceral fat increases with age and points to new treatment possibilities for improving metabolic health.

The research, recently published in the journal Cell Metabolism, was led by Camell — who conducted the research as a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University and currently is an assistant professor in the College of Biological Sciences and Medical School — and Vishwa Deep Dixit at Yale University’s School of Medicine.

Previous research shows the body's ability to burn off fat tissues — an important metabolic process called lipolysis — is reduced with age, but it is not yet clear why that ability is impaired.

In this recent study, researchers analyzed where the adipose tissue (i.e., fat) was located in young and old mouse models. The study:

  • found that in old mouse models, adipose B cells — a type of immune cell — expand with age, increased inflammation and were unique from other populations of B cells seen in aging;
  • discovered that by using a B cell depleting antibody — thus removing adipose B cells — researchers were able to restore the body’s ability to burn fat tissues and reduce inflammation;
  • indicates that the B cells are directly impairing the metabolism in the old mouse models.

“This is the first work to describe the increase in adipose tissue B cells and their role in impairing metabolism with age,” said Camell. “Importantly, B cell depleting antibodies are used in fighting diseases already, and it remains to be seen if those treatments can be used to improve metabolism in the elderly.”

Further research is needed to better understand how B cells impair lipolysis and to define whether these changes occur in humans. The Camell Lab with the U of M’s Institute on the Biology of Aging and Metabolism (iBAM), will investigate these immune-metabolic changes that occur with aging and propose to identify therapeutic candidates for improving metabolism during aging.

This research was supported with funding from the American Federation of Aging Research Postdoctoral transition fellowship; National Institute on Aging (K99AG058800); National Institute of Health (P01AG051459, AI105097, AG051459, AR070811); the Glenn Foundation on Aging Research; the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund; the German Research Foundation (SFB704, SFB645); and Germany’s Excellence Strategy (EXC2151-390873048).

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