Researchers at the University of Debrecen have developed a new strategy to prevent childhood obesity


The researchers of the University of Debrecen achieved a result of outstanding significance in their joint scientific investigation with specialists from the Universities of Ulm and Leipzig. The mechanism they discovered may help prevent childhood obesity and treat adult obesity. The researchers published their results in Nature Metabolism (IF 19.865), one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals.

Currently, the number of obese children in the world can be estimated at more than 41 million. For this reason, the consequences of obesity will affect approximately 60 percent of the world’s adult population by 2030.

The treatment of obesity and related chronic diseases – diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, kidney diseases, gallstones, fatty liver, chronic arthritis, frequent infections, asthma, and depression – is a major challenge for healthcare systems worldwide. Today, childhood obesity is about twice as common, and three times as common in adolescence, as it was in the 1970s

– emphasized Tamás Röszer, the head of the study, and pediatric obesitologist researcher at the ÁOK Pediatric Institute of the University of Debrecen.

The specialist explained: the central actors of fat metabolism are the energy-producing units of cells, the so-called mitochondria, which produce energy and heat by breaking down fats. Mitochondria evolved from single-celled organisms similar to today’s bacteria and retained the genetic material of their bacterial ancestors. In their study, researchers from the University of Debrecen, Ulm and Leipzig University found that during obesity, the genetic material of the mitochondria of fat cells is recognized by the immune system as foreign – that is, as pathogenic bacteria. Because of this, an immune response is launched against the mitochondria, the mitochondria are damaged and do not process the fats taken in with food. Fats are thus deposited in fat cells and cause obesity.

However, researchers have shown that children’s fat cells have a mechanism that protects the mitochondria.

As a result, the immune system of fat cells does not regard mitochondria as foreign, and even supports the growth of mitochondria. This protective mechanism requires vitamin D and allows the fat cells of newborns and children to properly use dietary fats. Maintaining a healthy fat metabolism in childhood is extremely important, as this determines the tendency to obesity in adulthood,

– the leading researcher told.

The mechanism discovered by the research group can also be used as a therapeutic target in the prevention of childhood obesity and in the treatment of adult obesity.

Mitochondrial RNA and vitamin D can be introduced into fat cells, which together can reactivate the development of mitochondria and fat burning. We demonstrated this in an animal experiment. In addition, changes in the gene expression level of the molecules involved in the mechanism may be of diagnostic importance in the recognition of early obesity tendencies. This can be measured, for example, in cases where fatty tissue has to be removed due to other surgical interventions,

– added Tamás Röszer.

An announcement on the results of the research on November 28 (Anh Cuong Hoang, László Sasi-Szabó, Tibor Pál, Tamás Szabó, Victoria Diedrich, Annika Herwig, Kathrin Landgraf, Antje Körner, Tamás Röszer: Mitochondrial RNA stimulates beige adipocyte development in young mice) and in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals, Nature Metabolism (IF 19.865).

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