Estrogen receptor could offer shield from obesity

(Credit: bixentro/Flickr)

An estrogen-activated protein inside cells appears to offer protection against obesity—in both men and women—according to a new study with mice.

The research, reported in two separate studies, indicates that the protein reduces various metabolic diseases, including fatty liver disease.

“Reducing obesity and metabolic disease risks are urgent public health priorities,” says Vicki Vieira Potter, associate professor of nutrition & exercise physiology at the University of Missouri. “The key to finding treatments is understanding how estrogen receptor signaling impacts metabolism and how these proteins serve a protective function.”

Female mice and hormone changes

In a study with female mice, which appears in Frontiers of Physiology, researchers found that mice without functional estrogen receptor alpha were more obese and metabolically dysfunctional. The mice also were more susceptible to weight gain and metabolic dysfunction when fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet.

Daily injections of a drug known to stimulate fat cells to burn calories effectively prevented metabolic dysfunction, both in the mice with and without the functional estrogen receptor. In both groups of mice, they found the therapy less effective when paired with the high-fat, high-sugar diet.

“These new findings suggest that drug-induced activation of specific metabolic pathways might have value in preventing those hormone changes that we know occur as people age,” Vieira Potter says. “However, we also found that the effectiveness of that therapy was reduced when combined with an unhealthy high-fat, high-sugar diet.”

Male mice and their livers

In a study with male mice, which appears in the American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers found more evidence that the optimal metabolic function requires estrogen receptor alpha, even in males with less estrogen. In that study, they found that the estrogen receptor alpha is required for exercise to effectively reduce fat storage in the liver.

“It seems as though the estrogen receptor alpha is mediating the boon of estrogen benefits when it comes to protecting metabolism,” says Jaume Padilla, assistant professor of nutrition & exercise physiology.

“These findings suggest that aging and obesity might increase susceptibility to disease by adversely affecting estrogen receptors. Our findings also suggest that exercise and targeted therapies appear to effectively mitigate that dysfunction.”

The University of Missouri Research Council and the National Institutes of Health funded the work, which also received support from the Harry S Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agency.

Source: University of Missouri