How Does Fat Affect Muscle Function?

Monday, December 16, 2019

AMHERST, Mass. – From arthritis and heart failure to diabetes and menopause, many conditions are associated with muscle weakness and increased fat deposits.

Now a multidisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is applying a unique approach to examine the effects of fat tissue on skeletal muscle structure and function in young and older men and women.

Armed with a two-year, $374,188 grant from the National Institute on Aging, lead investigator Jane Kent, professor and chair of kinesiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, and colleagues will combine state-of-the-art, noninvasive magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy techniques with whole-body, single-cell and molecular measures of muscle function.

“As muscle typically contributes 30-40% of total body mass, this metabolically active tissue plays a direct role in maintaining good health,” Kent explains. “Currently, we do not know the mechanical consequences of fat infiltration on muscle. Our hypothesis is that fat physically limits muscle strength by interfering with the way the muscle was designed to work.”

The collaborative research is being performed in the Human Magnetic Resonance and Human Health and Performance centers at the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), where scientists strive to translate fundamental research into innovations that benefit humankind. Advanced data analysis will be carried out in the Muscle Physiology and Muscle Biology Laboratories in the Totman building.

Kent is working with kinesiology assistant professor Mark Miller, endocrinologist and research professor of kinesiology Dr. Stuart Chipkin, math and statistics professor emeritus John Buonaccorsi and professor Bruce Damon from the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science. Graduate students Joseph Gordon III and Christopher Hayden, along with project coordinator Nicholas Remillard, round out the research team.

Kent says the innovative research may yield new knowledge about the effects of fat on muscle activity, information that has potential health benefits.  Read more...

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