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Immune cells in the gut can explain why some people can not lose weight

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By Linda Carroll

Immune cells in the gut may determine whether our metabolism is hot or cold, as a new study shows.

Experiments conducted in specially designed mice found that certain immune cells in the small intestine tended to slow down the metabolism and store the ingested food as fat instead of converting it into energy, according to the study published Wednesday in Nature , Mice lacking these immune cells could have diets high in fat, sugar, and salt without conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, the researchers reported.

The hope is that these insights show ways of genetically engineered humans to have "thrifty" or slow metabolic processes. Perhaps metabolism is accelerated by lifting certain ingredients in the intestines to run hotter so that people can eat a little more without gaining weight.

"When you eat a meal, your body has to decide what it should do. Make the energy in the meal," said sophomore Filip Swirski, a senior associate professor at Harvard Medical School and senior investigator at Center for Systems Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital. "The immune cells calibrate this decision, and essentially they slow down a high metabolism."

Swirski and his colleagues initially focused on a protein called integrin beta7, which directs immune cells into the gut. Mice lacking the gene for the protein ate much more than those with the protein but did not gain, although they were no more active than the normal mice.

"They're just running hot," Swirski said. "They have a higher basal body temperature."

Next, the researchers tried to feed both groups of mice rich in fat, sugar and sodium, the type of diet known to trigger a metabolic syndrome ̵

1; a constellation of symptoms , including high blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol, associated with a higher risk of heart disease.

The mice without beta7 remained murky and did not develop glucose intolerance, resulting in increased blood sugar levels and high blood pressure.

In contrast, the normal mice became obese and developed high blood pressure and diminished glucose tolerance.

Next, the researchers investigated the effects of this protein on mice susceptible to the development of high cholesterol and arteriosclerosis. Once again, mice lacking the beta7 protein were healthier and maintained a normal fat content despite high cholesterol feeding.

But how did beta7 affect the metabolism?

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