Intra-abdominal fat may play role in IBD development

A new study is the first to show disease-dependent responses from fat cells to inflammation.
By Stephen Feller  |  Aug. 5, 2015 at 2:30 PM
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BETHESDA, Md., Aug. 5 (UPI) -- Intra-abdominal fat, which wraps around the intestine, may be involved in the development of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, according to research from the University of California Los Angeles.

Researchers said the study is the first to show different disease-dependent responses from fat cells to inflammatory mediators. They are still learning what those responses are beyond understanding that several diseases are based around inflammation of the digestive and intestinal tracts.

"A well-appreciated feature of IBD, especially longstanding Crohn's disease, is intra-abdominal fat, also known as 'creeping fat,' which wraps around the intestine. However, it's not clear whether this fat is protective or harmful," said Dr. Charalabos Pothoulakis, a researcher at the University of California Los Angeles, in a press release. "Our study offers insight into this phenomenon. We found that intra-abdominal fat cells may normally be programmed to dampen inflammation but, in fact, have acquired a tendency to promote inflammation in IBD."

Creeping fat has been difficult for researchers to study, they said, because most healthy people don't have any. In order to create a control group for experimentation, researchers isolated and cultured pre-intra-abdominal fat cells from healthy persons and those with IBD, including both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis patients.

The researchers observed signaling mediators from healthy fat cells were different than those from patients with IBD, which they said suggests creeping fat cells have a role in gut immunity and inflammation. Fat cells from ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease patients also differed, offering the first evidence that creeping fat is involved in the developent of ulcerative colitis. Previous studies had already shown its role in Crohn's disease.

Future studies will need to focus on the development of creeping fat, its role in inflammation, and how inflammation influences its growth, all of which may lead to targeting fat cells when treating IBD or its related conditions.

The study is published in Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

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