A group of researchers at Virginia Tech recently discovered a link between sex and fat accumulation, a potential answer to why men carry more weight in their abdomens while women carry weight in their hips and thighs.
In a study published in Cell Death and Disease, a team led by Zhiyong Cheng, assistant professor of human nutrition, food, and exercise, found that autophagy, a type of fat cell remodeling pathway, was regulated by estrogen receptor ERa. The team showed that male mice had a higher visceral fat mass than female mice, which was associated with higher cellular remodeling activity and lower ERa in males. The fat difference between the sexes was eliminated by deleting ERa.
This means that, along with playing a role in signaling sex steroids for female sexual maturation, ERa suppresses fat cell remodeling and formation. When removed or inhibited, fat cell formation can proceed.
“Given that accumulation of visceral fat increases the risks of developing metabolic diseases, we are interested in the molecular and cellular mechanisms of sex difference in visceral fat accumulation,” said Dr. Cheng.
Buildup of visceral fat around the abdomen is also associated with higher risk cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes. What’s more, ERa’s link to estrogen may also lead scientists to ways to improve women’s metabolic health, and answer questions about how lifestyle, menopause, and certain medical treatments can affect ERa and, therefore, gain of visceral fat.
“Our results highlight the importance of considering sex difference in biomedical research and also shed light on why breast cancer patients who receive treatment in the form of estrogen receptor inhibitors may find that they gain visceral fat directly after treatment,” Dr. Cheng said.
Learn more about Dr. Cheng’s research here.More From: Virginia Tech
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