Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Program in Molecular Medicine

First Thesis Advisor

Michael P. Czech, Ph.D.


Adipocytes, Fatty Acids, Adipogenesis, Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptors, Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins


Although once considered a simple energy storage depot, the adipose tissue is now known to be a powerful regulator of whole body insulin sensitivity and energy metabolism. This metabolically dynamic organ functions to safely store excess fatty acid as triglyceride, thereby preventing lipotoxicity in peripheral tissues and the development of insulin resistance. In addition, the adipose tissue acts as an endocrine organ and secretes factors, called adipokines, which influence whole body insulin sensitivity and glucose homeostasis. Therefore, understanding adipose tissue development and biology is essential to understanding whole body energy metabolism.

A master regulator of adipose tissue development and whole body insulin sensitivity is the nuclear receptor, PPARγ. Due to the importance of this nuclear receptor in maintaining adipocyte function, disruptions in PPARγ activity result in severe metabolic abnormalities, such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Conversely, PPARγ activation by synthetic agonists ameliorates these conditions, demonstrating the potent control this nuclear receptor has on whole body metabolism. Therefore, understanding how PPARγ expression and activity are regulated, particularly in the adipose tissue, is paramount to understanding the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes.

While there are several synthetic PPARγ agonists available, identifying the endogenous ligand or ligands is still an area of intense investigation. Since fatty acids can induce PPARγ activation, in the first part of this thesis, I screened several fatty acid metabolizing enzymes present in the adipocyte to identify novel modulators of PPARγ activity. These studies revealed that the fatty acid Δ9 desaturase, Stearoyl CoA Desaturase 2 (SCD2), is absolutely required for 3T3-L1 adipogenesis and to maintain adipocyte-specific gene expression in fully differentiated cells. Although SCD2 does not appear to regulate PPARγ ligand production, it does potently regulate PPARγ activity by maintaining the synthesis of PPARγ protein. Surprisingly, this effect was found only with SCD2 and not with the highly homologous protein, SCD1. Therefore, these findings identify separate cellular functions for these SCD isoforms and reveal a novel and essential role for fatty acid desaturation in the adipocyte.

Equally important to understanding PPARγ regulation is identifying the downstream mechanisms by which PPARγ activation improves insulin sensitivity. Evidence suggests that the PPARγ target gene, Cidea, is involved in mediating insulin sensitivity by binding to lipid droplets and promoting lipid storage in the adipocyte. Therefore, the second part of thesis provides mechanistic detail into Cidea function by showing that the carboxy terminal 104 amino acids is necessary and sufficient for lipid droplet targeting and the stimulation of triglyceride storage. However, these studies also identified a novel function for Cidea, which requires both the carboxy and amino termini: to induce larger and fewer droplets from smaller dispersed droplets, indicating the possible fusion of droplets. Perhaps this striking change in lipid droplet morphology allows tighter packing and more efficient storage of triglyceride and identifies a novel role for Cidea in lipid metabolism.

The results presented in this thesis elucidate key aspects of lipid metabolism that maintain adipocyte function: SCD2 is required to maintain PPARγ protein expression in the mouse; Cidea is a downstream effector of PPARγ activity by promoting efficient triglyceride storage. Therefore, these findings enhance our understanding of adipocyte biology.



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