Scientists have reported on new evidence that a common virus - human adenovirus-36 (Ad-36) - may be a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic sweeping the world.
The scientists showed that infection with Ad-36, long recognized as a cause of respiratory and eye infections in humans, transforms adult stem cells obtained from fat tissue into fat cells. Stem cells not exposed to the virus, in contrast, were unchanged. The findings, which could lead to a vaccine or antiviral medication to help fight viral obesity in the future, were presented at the 234th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.
"We're not saying that a virus is the only cause of obesity, but this study provides stronger evidence that some obesity cases may involve viral infections," said study presenter Magdalena Pasarica, from Louisiana State University. "Not all infected people will develop obesity. We would ultimately like to identify the underlying factors that predispose some obese people to develop this virus and eventually find a way to treat it."
Past research showed that 30 percent of obese people were infected with the Ad-36 virus in comparison to 11 percent of lean individuals. But evidence that the virus could actually cause fat levels to increase in human cells was lacking until now, Pasarica explained.
The exact mechanism by which the virus might cause obesity in people is currently unknown. Researchers also do not know how long the virus remains in the body of obese individuals, nor how long its fat-enhancing effect continues once the virus is gone. However, Pasarica notes a recent study demonstrated that animals that developed the virus remained obese up to six months after their infection was gone.
Pasarica is now in the process of trying to identify the factors that predispose some people with the virus to develop obesity while others do not.
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Source: American Chemical Society