In humans females store more fat than males and break it down more slowly, also due to a gene.
While this difference in fat metabolism between men and women is partially explained by lifestyle, biological factors such as sex hormones and sex chromosomes also play a role.
A lot of research has identified hundreds of fat metabolism genes that are influenced by sex hormones and sex chromosomes, but less is known about which of these genes cause the male-female difference in fat storage.
In most animals we see similar trends, females store more fat than males, and break it down more slowly.
Researchers from UBC’s faculty of medicine used fruit flies to make a fundamental genetic discovery about differences between how males and females store and metabolize fat.
People and fruit flies are astonishingly alike genetically. In fact, nearly 75 per cent of disease-causing genes in humans can be found in the fly in a similar form.
The study’s senior author, Elizabeth Rideout, an assistant professor in the department of cellular and physiological sciences, and graduate student Lianna Wat, explain what this discovery means for the future of treating and managing metabolic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Given that female flies also store more fat than males, and metabolize it more slowly, this makes them a perfect animal to enrich our understanding of the genes that affect male-female differences in fundamental cellular processes like fat metabolism.
Recearchers identified a fat metabolism gene that regulates the male-female difference in fat storage.
In flies without this gene, the males and females store exactly the same amount of fat.
This discovery paves the way for identifying metabolic genes that control male-female differences in other aspects of development and physiology.
These studies take place at the earliest stage of the discovery process.
Researchers hope that by identifying genes that explain why males and females have different amounts of fat, we will be better able to understand why men and women have differences in the risk of diseases associated with abnormal fat storage, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Knowing which genes affect fat storage and metabolism is also an important first step in developing more precise treatments to tackle metabolic disease.
At present, not many drugs are available to treat abnormal fat metabolism, and those that are available often work better in either men or women.
By identifying genes that influence fat storage in male and female flies, researchers will gain vital information on developing new therapies that are tailored to women, and to men, in treating abnormal fat metabolism.
Analysis of triglyceride storage and breakdown in both sexes identified a role for triglyceride lipase brummer (bmm) in the regulation of sex differences in triglyceride homeostasis.
Normally, male flies have higher levels of bmm mRNA both under normal culture conditions and in response to starvation, a lipolytic stimulus.
Researchers find that loss of bmm largely eliminates the sex difference in triglyceride storage and abolishes the sex difference in triglyceride breakdown via strongly male-biased effects.
Although scientists show that bmm function in the fat body affects whole-body triglyceride levels in both sexes, in males, they identify an additional role for bmm function in the somatic cells of the gonad and in neurons in the regulation of whole-body triglyceride homeostasis.
Reserchers demonstrate that lipid droplets are normally present in both the somatic cells of the male gonad and in neurons, revealing a previously unrecognized role for bmm function, and possibly lipid droplets, in these cell types in the regulation of whole-body triglyceride homeostasis.
Taken together, the data reveal a role for bmm function in the somatic cells of the gonad and in neurons in the regulation of male–female differences in fat storage and breakdown and identify bmm as a link between the regulation of triglyceride homeostasis and biological sex.
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For more information
A role for triglyceride lipase brummer in the regulation of sex differences in Drosophila fat storage and breakdown
The University of British Columbia (UBC)
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