MIT finds genetic clue to bone and fat production

Aug 12, 2005

MIT researchers have identified a gene that helps control the balance between bone and fat in the human body, a discovery that could pave the way for the prevention of childhood obesity and the treatment of osteoporosis.

The findings will be published in the Aug. 12 issue of Science.

Researchers at MIT's Center for Cancer Research found that a gene called TAZ works to control the destiny of adult bone marrow stem cells, also known as mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). MSCs have the potential to form a number of different cell types, including bone, fat and muscle.

"We show that a single molecule helps turn one set of genes on to form bone and another set of genes off to inhibit fat formation in MSCs," said Michael Yaffe, the Howard and Linda Stern Professor of Biology and senior author of the paper. "This result suggests a potential new approach to combating various human diseases that result from a disruption in the balance between bone and fat."

The research presents several therapeutic opportunities, including the possibility that once isolated from the bone marrow, MSCs could be useful for healing bone fractures.

"One could also imagine developing a drug to stimulate TAZ activity, which may promote bone growth in elderly patients with osteoporosis," Yaffe said. "And because of the simultaneous inhibitory effect of TAZ on fat cell development, the same drug might also be used to prevent childhood obesity."

It would also be interesting to investigate whether TAZ activity is defective in bone tumors, and in bone-like tumors that form from fat cells, the researchers said. Modulating TAZ activity could be an effective approach to treating these tumors.

The researchers studied the function of TAZ in cultured MSCs and in animals. MSCs comprise a small percentage of bone marrow cells, about 0.01 percent.

The researchers' most stunning result came when they injected one- to two-cell zebrafish embryos with short strands of RNA that blocked expression of the TAZ gene.

"When we knocked out TAZ in zebrafish, the embryos died when they were just 8 days old, and they had failed to form any bones at all," said postdoctoral fellow Jeong-Ho Hong, the lead author on the paper. Therefore, depletion of TAZ within the body completely impaired bone development. When TAZ was depleted in MSCs grown outside the body in culture, those cells readily turned into fat.

The research was borne out of a collaboration between Yaffe, who also holds appointments in the Broad Institute and in the Department of Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; Harvard Medical School; the CCR labs of Nancy Hopkins, Amgen Professor of Biology, and Phillip Sharp, Institute Professor of biology; and the lab of Bruce Spiegelman at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School.

MIT CCR researchers Michael T. McManus, Adam Amsterdam and Ralitsa Kalmukova, Harvard Medical School researchers Eun Sook Hwang of the Harvard School of Public Health, Yu Tian and Thomas Benjamin of the Department of Pathology, and Elisabetta Mueller and Bruce M. Spiegelman of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Department of Cell Biology also contributed to this work.

Source: MIT

Explore further: Russia turns back clocks to permanent Winter Time

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Insider trading study shows stronger enforcement

14 minutes ago

The first major study of the enforcement of Australia's insider trading laws has shown the number of insider trading cases brought by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) is increasing, ...

Researchers developing new thermal interface materials

22 minutes ago

In the microelectronics world, the military and private sectors alike need solutions to technologic challenges. Dr. Mustafa Akbulut, assistant professor of chemical engineering, and two students lead a project ...

Recommended for you

Russia turns back clocks to permanent Winter Time

12 hours ago

Russia on Sunday is set to turn back its clocks to winter time permanently in a move backed by President Vladimir Putin, reversing a three-year experiment with non-stop summer time that proved highly unpopular.

Remains of French ship being reassembled in Texas

Oct 24, 2014

A frigate carrying French colonists to the New World that sank in a storm off the Texas coast more than 300 years ago is being reassembled into a display that archeologists hope will let people walk over ...

User comments : 0