Human body fat distribution and risk of metabolic disease
Project leader: Dr Catriona Hilton, NIHR Clinical Lecturer
The massive and growing burden of overweight and obesity need no introduction. What is less widely recognised is the importance of body fat distribution.
There is increasing evidence that the upper and lower body fat depots show opposite associations with the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease; indeed, waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is a stronger predictor of myocardial infarction than body mass index (BMI). In line with this, the regional fat depots are structurally and functionally distinct.
Catriona is interested in finding out:
- what determines human body fat distribution, and
- the mechanisms by which the different fat depots influence the risk of metabolic disease.
Her main focus is the role of iron metabolism.
Erythroferrone (ERFE) is a recently discovered protein that increases intestinal iron absorption by inhibiting hepcidin. Catriona and her colleagues are investigating its relationship with body fat distribution using observational data from two large cohorts. They are using genetic variants that affect ERFE expression as tools to explore its influence on body fat distribution in humans. Finally, they are investigating its mechanisms of action in cell-culture models.