Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Program in Molecular Medicine

First Thesis Advisor

Silvia Corvera, M.D.


Adipocytes, Adipose Tissue, Endothelial Cells


Obesity is associated with insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and cardiovascular disease. The current obesity epidemic is the result of surplus energy consumption. Excess energy is stored in expanding adipose tissue. Adipose tissue growth entails the enlargement of existing adipocytes, the formation of new fat cells from preexisting progenitors, and the coordinated development of supporting vasculature. Identifying adipocyte progenitors and the mechanism of adipose tissue expansion is crucial for the development of new strategies to combat obesity and its complications.

Though important progress has been made towards understanding the developmental origin of adipocytes, the identities of adipocyte progenitors are still not completely known. The main objective of this study is to determine whether endothelial cells of the adipose tissue can give rise to new adipocytes. Our results indicate that murine endothelial cells of adipose tissue are pluripotent and can potentially give rise to preadipocytes. Lineage tracing experiments using the VE-Cadherin-Cre transgenic mouse reveal localization of reporter genes in endothelial cells, preadipocytes and white and brown adipocytes. Moreover, capillary sprouts from human adipose tissue, which have predominantly endothelial cell characteristics, are found to express Zfp423, a preadipocyte determination factor. In response to PPARγ activation, endothelial characteristics of sprouting cells are progressively lost, and cells form structurally and biochemically defined adipocytes. Taken together, our data support an endothelial origin of a population of adipocytes. The ability of the vascular endothelium to give rise to adipocytes may explain how angiogenesis and adipogenesis can be temporally and spatially coordinated.

Analysis of BAT and WAT revealed that adipose depots have distinct compositions of adipocyte progenitors. Of the CD45-CD29+Sca1+CD24+ progenitor population, only 17% and 52% express VE-Cadherin in WAT and BAT, respectively. Our data show that the number of these specific progenitors in BAT and WAT are highly variable and suggest that a considerable number of adipocytes progenitors may have a non-endothelial cell origin. Differences in composition and types of adipocyte progenitors may explain the differences in the adipocytes phenotypes that we observe in discrete depots.

In brief, we find that the vascular endothelium gives rise to a population of brown and white fat cells, and that the number of endothelial-derived adipocyte progenitors residing in BAT and WAT is highly variable. These results expand our current understanding of adipose tissue growth, and, we hope, will accelerate the development of treatments for obesity-related complications.



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