60-Second Science

Virus Infection Could Be Contributing to Obesity

The presence of human adenovirus-36 seems to transform adult stem cells found in fatty tissue into fat cells--infection with the virus may therefore be a factor in at least some cases of obesity. Steve Mirsky reports.

On July 26th we reported that obesity could be sort of contagious—when your friends gain weight you feel more comfy carrying a extra pounds.  Now comes a report that a common virus may contribute to the obesity epidemic.  Researchers found that human adenovirus-36 could transform adult stem cells obtained from fatty tissue into fat cells.  They announced the finding at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Adenovirus-36 infection is known to cause some respiratory and eye issues.  Other research revealed that animals infected with the virus accumulated fat.  And another study showed that 30 percent of obese people had the infection, compared with only 11 percent of lean individuals.  What the new study did was provide direct evidence that the virus actually caused fat levels to increase.  The researchers collected fat from liposuction patients and isolated adult stem cells.  They exposed half to the virus, and found that the infected stem cells turned into fat cells.  So vaccines or antiviral drugs may get drafted for the battle of the bulge.

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