Fat cells may be critical to wound healing

Science and Technology

Researchers from the University of Bristol explored a potential function of adipocytes regarding wound healing. These ‘fat cells’ have several functions in various tissues beyond energy storage. These include metabolism regulation, growth, and immunity.

By using live imaging of fat cells in a fruit fly termed Drosophilia (the equivalent of vertebrate adipocytes), scientists looked into the potential behaviours and functions following a skin wound. The experiment began with labelling fat cells in Drosophila pupae: the developmental stage where the fruit fly is in between larva and adult. They then cut a small hole in the pupae with a laser and monitored the previously marked cells. Within an hour, the fat cells migrated towards the wound.

Interestingly enough, pupal fat cells were found to be motile, a characteristic that had not been associated with these cells until now. Results suggest that fat cell migration to wounds is adhesion-independent and is possible due to actomyosin, a protein complex responsible for cellular contractions, which allows peristalsis.

Once at the wound site, these cells ‘tightly seal the epithelial wound gap [by forming lamellipodia around the wound margin] and locally release antimicrobial peptides to fight wound infection’. Fat cells also collaborate with circulating blood cells to clear the wound of cell debris. Additionally, the team deactivated the circulating blood cells so that they would not signal the location of the wound. However, fat cells continued to arrive to the site and, consequently, researchers suggested that there are unknown signals driving fat cells to the wound.

Although fat cells likely play a role in wound healing in humans and other vertebrates, it remains unclear whether this process is significantly similar to the process occurring in Drosophilia. Interactions between fat cells and immune cells seem to be key in many diseases, including type 2 diabetes. Thus, by further studying the functional relationship and communication between fat cells and circulating blood cells, important insights may be provided.