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The University of Leeds has found that high fat levels in the blood of people with obesity or type 2 diabetes could cause more harm than scientists initially thought. These fat cells could add stress to muscle cells, thus reducing their functioning.

Researchers found ceramides which send signals to other cells

The team has also found that these cells produce signals called ceramides which they transmit to other cells. These signals can reduce stress in the cell for a short time. However, for people with chronic metabolic diseases like diabetes type 2, these signals will kill the cells thus, worsening the disease symptoms.

This study is relevant as the rates of obesity worldwide have gone up. In 2016 alone, 650 million adults were obese. Obesity increases fat in the blood, which can cause tissue damage leading to metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes. It could also cause cardiovascular diseases.

According to Professor Lee Roberts, a lead study author who works at the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Metabolism, the study is still relatively new. However, he predicts that their findings could form a basis for therapeutic approaches in obese patients to avoid metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.

How researchers conducted the study

The team came to this conclusion after they replicated the levels of blood fat seen in diabetes patients. They did this by placing a skeletal muscle cell in the presence of a palmitate. After they did this, they found that the cell would transmit ceramides.

The team later mixed the skeletal muscle cells with others that hadn’t been exposed to fat cells. They found that the cells exposed to palmitate would communicate with the others. Researchers later conducted a similar study on humans and found the same results.

Professor Roberts says that the team will investigate what causes stress in these patients as it could help scientists come up with the best therapy. Such therapies would be beneficial as obesity increases, and metabolic diseases are also expected to increase.

The researchers titled the study Long-chain Ceramides Are Cell Non-autonomous Signals Linking Lipotoxicity to Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress in Skeletal Muscles. They published the study in Nature Communications.