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A new USC CiMUS study reveals that the physiopathology of obesity is different in men and women.

  • The work, led by Olga Barca of the Gliatime group and Miguel López of the NeurObesity group, demonstrates how astrocytes in the hypothalamus play an essential role in regulating energy balance differently in male and female experimental animals.
  • Published in the prestigious scientific journal Cell Reports, the finding provides new insight into the complex mechanisms that regulate the balance between energy supply and expenditure and how they may vary by sex.


Energy homeostasis defines the point of balance between energy intake and energy consumption in our body and is regulated, like the other circadian rhythms, by the central nervous system via the hypothalamus. Its behaviour is central to the pathophysiology of obesity and related diseases. Now, the CiMUS groups at USC Gliatime and NeurObesity, led by Olga Barca and Miguel López, have just discovered that the maintenance of energy balance is different in male and female mice; and that astrocytes, a type of brain cell, are responsible for these differences. The finding has been published in the prestigious scientific journal Cell Reports.  



Chronotherapeutic strategies

This research shows that knockdown of the BMAL1 gene, one of the molecular clock genes that plays a crucial role in the generation of circadian rhythms, in female astrocytes results in a negative energy balance and alters basic metabolic cycles without affecting circadian locomotor activity. These cells influence metabolic rate, lipogenesis in white and hepatic adipose tissue and brown adipose tissue activity.

"It is important to note that these alterations are specific to astrocytes in the hypothalamus," says Gliatime group coordinator Olga Barca, who goes on to explain that "interestingly, female mice with reduced BMAL1 in these astrocytes show a 'male-like' metabolic phenotype when fed a high-fat diet".

"We hope that this article will be of great interest to the scientific community and society at large, as it sheds light on the complex mechanisms that regulate energy homeostasis and how these may vary by sex. Understanding sex differences in these circadian mechanisms is crucial for understanding the different responses to circadian disruption and other dimorphisms associated with sex difference," concludes the CiMUS researcher.

The results of this research provide valuable information on the development of new gender-specific treatments for diseases related to the so-called cellular clocks, energy homeostasis and peripheral metabolism, providing opportunities for the design of chrono-therapeutic strategies.