Mouse Embryonic Fibroblasts Protect ob/ob Mice From Obesity and Metabolic Complications

Endocrinology. 2018 Sep 1;159(9):3275-3286. doi: 10.1210/en.2018-00561.


The global obesity epidemic is fueling alarming rates of diabetes, associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Leptin is a hormone secreted by adipose tissue that is a key regulator of body weight (BW) and energy expenditure. Leptin-deficient humans and mice are obese, diabetic, and infertile and have hepatic steatosis. Although leptin replacement therapy can alleviate the pathologies seen in leptin-deficient patients and mouse models, treatment is costly and requires daily injections. Because adipocytes are the source of leptin secretion, we investigated whether mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs), capable of forming adipocytes, could be injected into ob/ob mice and prevent the metabolic phenotype seen in these leptin-deficient mice. We performed a single subcutaneous injection of MEFs into leptin-deficient ob/ob mice. The MEF injection formed a single fat pad that is histologically similar to white adipose tissue. The ob/ob mice receiving MEFs (obRs) had significantly lower BW compared with nontreated ob/ob mice, primarily because of decreased adipose tissue mass. Additionally, obR mice had significantly less liver steatosis and greater glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. obR mice also manifested lower food intake and greater energy expenditure than ob/ob mice, providing a mechanism underlying their metabolic improvement. Furthermore, obRs have sustained metabolic protection and restoration of fertility. Collectively, our studies show the importance of functional adipocytes in preventing metabolic abnormalities seen in leptin deficiency and point to the possibility of cell-based therapies for the treatment of leptin-deficient states.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes, White / cytology
  • Adipocytes, White / metabolism*
  • Adipogenesis
  • Adipose Tissue, White
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Transplantation*
  • Eating*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Fatty Liver / metabolism*
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Leptin / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Obese
  • Mutation
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / metabolism*


  • Leptin