Beige Fat for Improved Metabolic Function in Older Adults

When humans and other mammals get cold, their bodies generate a particular type of fat cell, called beige fat, that is distinct in structure and function from other fat. Beige fat cells act like tiny furnaces that burn blood sugar and fatty acids to generate heat. This metabolic activity makes beige fat particularly interesting from a clinical perspective. According to recent studies, beige fat might play a role in treating patients who are obese or have type 2 diabetes. The ability to produce beige fat declines with age, however, presenting a critical challenge to the therapeutic potential of beige fat for older adults, among whom obesity is prevalent.

Daniel C. Berry, Nutritional Sciences, is investigating why our ability to produce beige fat declines. This project represents a critical step toward finding ways to revive beige fat production in older adults. Previous studies by Berry and collaborators identified a protein that plays a central role in regulating the cellular development of beige fat. This protein, platelet-derived growth factor receptor beta (Pdgfrβ), does not act alone, however. To discover how declines of beige fat cell production can be reversed, this project will elucidate the role of Pdgfrβ, its connections with the sympathetic nervous system, and the signaling pathways in which it participates.

Aging is associated with the expansion of non-beige fat tissue that hinders the body’s ability to metabolize sugar and fat. The age-related decline in metabolic function increases the incidence of premature death from type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This research seeks ways to improve metabolic function, combat excess body fat, and restore health in older adults.

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$2.1 Million spanning 5 years