Fat: An active player in the regulation of many processes in health and disease
Obesity does not only mean a loss of quality of life for the affected person but also increases the risk of suffering from other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, diabetes, liver malfunction and orthopedic dysfunction. Our research focus is on studying the link between obesity and cardiovascular disease in general and atherosclerosis in particular. It is well known now, that obese individuals are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and several studies suggest obesity as an independent risk factor.
Adipose tissue is no longer seen merely as a mostly passive energy storage organ but is now also considered to be an active endocrine tissue that by producing a variety of cytokines, hormones and other proteins impacts on a multitude of physiological and pathophysiological processes in the human body. The adipocyte, whose size and numbers are increased in obesity, is the cellular factory that produces these proteins termed adipokines. We have cultured adipocytes from human adipose tissue and used them as a model to study effects of inflammatory mediators on the production of various adipokines by these cells.
The rationale behind this approach is based on the notion that obesity is associated with a state of chronic inflammation, which is in contrast to acute inflammation, which is in most cases a life-saving defence reaction of the body against infection that leads to tissue damage and destruction. Such tissue damage is thought to be the initiating event in the development of atherosclerotic blood vessels.
By using this approach we were the first to show that certain inflammatory mediators increase the production of two key adipokines, namely plasminogen activator inhibitor type-1 (PAI-1) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) by adipocytes. PAI-1 is a prothrombotic protein that promotes the development of blood clots. The development of such clots in atherosclerotic blood vessels is a key event in cardiovascular diseases such as myocardial infarction. Thus we believe that through these findings we have established a link between inflammation, adipose tissue and the development of cardiovascular disease.
VEGF is a protein, which induces the growth of new blood vessels. It is believed that adipose tissue, when it increases in mass, needs additional blood vessels to secure its supply with nutrients and oxygen. In fact, in mice it has been shown that blockade of VEGF leads to a decrease in adipose tissue mass in these animals. We were able to show in mice, for the first time, that inflammatory mediators injected into these animals led to increased blood vessel growth in adipose tissue. Such increase in blood vessel density in adipose tissue would then in turn result in better supply with oxygen and nutrients and could ultimately lead to growth of adipose tissue.
In conclusion we suggest that knowledge of regulatory mechanisms, which impact on the production of adipokines and on adipose tissue development and growth is instrumental to develop and improve strategies for combating not only obesity but also cardiovascular disease.
The European Society of Cardiology (ESC):
The ESC represents nearly 53,000 cardiology professionals across Europe and the Mediterranean. Its mission is to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in Europe.
The ESC achieves this through a variety of scientific and educational activities including the coordination of: clinical practice guidelines, education courses and initiatives, pan-European surveys on specific disease areas and the ESC Annual Congress, the largest medical meeting in Europe. The ESC also works closely with the European Commission and WHO to improve health policy in the EU.
The ESC comprises 3 Councils, 5 Associations, 19 Working Groups, 50 National Cardiac Societies and an ESC Fellowship Community (Fellow, FESC; Nurse Fellow, NFESC). For more information on ESC Initiatives, Congresses and Constituent Bodies see www.escardio.org.
European Society of Cardiology, The European Heart House 2035 Route des Colles, B.P. 179 - Les Templiers, Sophia Antipolis F-06903 France
This work was funded by the Austrian Fund for the promotion of Research (Grant Number S9409-B011), by the Association for the Promotion of Research in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology and by the Ludwig Boltzmann Cluster for Cardiovascular Research.
About the Author(s)
Professor Dr. Johann Wojta
Medical University of Vienna/Austria
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