Several studies have shown that adult white fat cells can differentiate into other cell types by first dedifferentiating into a less committed cell type and then differentiating into heart, bone, cartilage, fat or other cell types. These dedifferentiated fat cells, which are also called DFAT cells, do not have any of the characteristics of the stem cell population normally found in fat (fat-based mesenchymal stromal cells).
No one has studied DFAT cells in much detail. One study of rat DFAT cells showed that a very low percentage of cultured rat DFAT cells (0.4% – 1.2%) expressed embryonic stem cell-specific genes after 2 weeks. Beyond that, there is little known about DFAT cells. Could they be a potential source of pluripotent cells?
A new study by Medet Jumabay and colleagues at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA have isolated DFAT cells from adult white fat of mice and humans and characterized them. The results are fascinating and potentially useful for regenerative medicine.
This paper utilizes a new way to isolate fat cells that guarantees their initial purity and a culture system that encourages isolated of DFAT cells. After the fat cells were isolated from liposuction the fat cells showed the characteristics of pluripotent stem cells for five to seven days in culture. In culture, DFAT cells spontaneously clumped into clusters that expressed several stem cell-specific genes. Once these stem cell-specific genes faded, genes associated with specific cell types, such as liver or nerves, or muscle, were expressed. Interestingly, when DFAT cells were implanted into mice with non-functional immune systems, they did not form tumors.
Thus, fat-derived DFAT cells represent a highly plastic stem cell population for pluripotent cell research that is very responsive to changes in culture conditions and may benefit the development of cell-based therapies.