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UMass: Team Investigates How Fat Affects Muscle Function

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 led by Dr. Jane Kent, professor and chair of kinesiology at University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences 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, Dr. Kent 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 percent of total body mass, this metabolically active tissue plays a direct role in maintaining good health,” Dr. 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.”

Dr. Kent is working with UMass Amherst kinesiology faculty members Dr. Mark Miller and Dr. Stuart Chipkin, UMass Amherst math and statistics professor emeritus Dr. John Buonaccorsi, and professor Dr. Bruce Damon from the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science.

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

“Understanding the impact adipose tissue has on skeletal muscle has the potential to markedly alter our approach to mitigating and reversing muscle dysfunction in aging and the large number of conditions associated with increased fat content in muscle,” Dr. Kent says.

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