A research team at the Louisiana State University has found that a virus may be to blame for the increasingly high incidences of obesity in the western world.
When undifferentiated cells were infected with Adenovirus-36 (also known as AD-36) they more readily became fat cells, whereas in precursor cells that had not been infected the prevalence of fat cells was not apparent.
Adenovirus-36 is just one of 51 known adenoviruses that can infect humans, most of which cause respiratory infections (i.e. the common cold) and have also been associated with the formation of some tumours. Adenovirus-36 has been found in approximately 30% of people suffering from obesity and only 11% of people who are not.
The team lead by Dr Nikhil Dhurandhar manipulated stem cells separated from human adipose tissue to express only one gene from the virus, E4 ORF-1. The expression of this viral gene in the undifferentiated cells triggered them to become fat cells, whereas stem cells that were not expressing E4 ORF-1 differentiated into a variety of cells.
The discovery that the expression of a single viral gene in undifferentiated cells triggers fat cells to be formed may one day lead to a treatment for a certain percentage of obesity cases around the world.
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Adapted from NewScientist, Issue 2650, April 04, page 15.