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Research at Oxford on adipose tissue biology is closely linked to the study of metabolic disorders and uses a range of systems and approaches.

Fat cells. 3D illustration showing presence of big lipid droplet (blue) inside the cell.

These include mouse models, the development of new cellular models to culture and maintain human fat-laden adipocytes, adipose-derived stem cells, and in vivo human studies.

Groups are studying how gene variants associated with obesity or obesity-related diseases influence adipocyte size, adipose tissue function, or body fat distribution, showing that some act on pathways in adipogenesis and adipocyte tissue expandability. Variants identified include those in transcription factor genes and in genes that are part of the Wnt signalling pathway, which have been associated with fat distribution. 

Human studies that aim to understand how fat is trafficked and stored in adipose tissue are carried out using isotopically-labelled substrates, which may be used, for example, to assess the metabolic impact of specific nutrients on adipose tissue function. Another area being exploring is the impact of adipose tissue distribution on metabolism and consequent development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The BRC-supported Clinical Research Unit in OCDEM is used for in-depth metabolic phenotyping, helping, for example, to develop risk stratification tools for clinical care. Oxford BioBank, a population-based cohort of healthy men and women aged 30-50, which includes fat biopsies and ultrasound scans of central adipose tissue of many participants, is used for these and other human metabolic studies.  

Adipose tissue produces a wide range of bioactive molecules such as adipokines and adipocytokines, which have local autocrine effects and also wider paracrine and endocrine ones. A number of groups at Oxford are interested in understanding how these molecules affect regulation of redox state and signalling in various tissues such as the vascular wall and myocardium and the role this plays in human cardiovascular disease. There are also groups characterising how adipose tissue is innervated and the role of the neuro-adipose junction in obesity.