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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Some Gut Cells Slow Down Metabolism, Accelerate Cardiovascular Disease

A white mouse runs on a yellow exercise wheel.

Researchers have discovered how cells in the guts of mice slow down metabolism and eventually contribute to obesity, diabetes, hypertension and atherosclerosis.

Photo: Roger Asbury/iStock

Researchers have discovered how specific cells in the guts of mice slow down metabolism and eventually contribute to obesity, diabetes, hypertension and atherosclerosis. The findings, scientists say, could have important implications for the prevention and treatment of these kinds of metabolic diseases in humans. The study was funded by NHLBI and appears in the journal Nature.

“With this research we are connecting the dots between gut metabolic food sensors and cardiovascular disease and might open new therapeutic avenues to treat patients with a host of related conditions,” said Dr. Michelle Olive, program officer in NHLBI’s Division of Cardiovascular Sciences.

The cells are called intraepithelial T lymphocytes (or natural IELs), and when they are not present, researchers discovered, the metabolism of mice goes into overdrive.

“The mice become metabolically hyperactive and, even when consuming a diet very high in fat and sugar, are able to resist metabolic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes and atherosclerosis,” said the study’s lead researcher Dr. Filip Swirski, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

When natural IELs are present, however, the researchers found that they limit the availability of a type of hormones, incretin GLP-1, that help speed up metabolism. By limiting GLP-1, the natural IELs, in effect, slow down the body’s metabolism and conserve the energy it gets from food.

Over millions of years of evolution, this efficient use of energy provided an essential advantage: when food was scarce, organisms stored rather than burned some of the ingested energy, and they survived longer.

“Now with food so abundant, this energy-saving mechanism can backfire and lead to unhealthy outcomes,” Swirski explained.

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

Associate Editor: Carla Garnett
Carla.Garnett@nih.gov

Staff Writers:

Eric Bock
Eric.Bock@nih.gov

Dana Talesnik
Dana.Talesnik@nih.gov

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