Nutritional regulation of metabolic health

Most of our knowledge on the effects of dietary interventions in humans has been assembled using early biomarkers of disease as measured in blood or urine. The measured outcome in blood or urine is the result of a complex interplay between organs and tissues and usually reflects a systemic effect.

Currently, we have limited knowledge on the effects of nutrition on metabolically active organs such as adipose tissue, liver and intestine, especially in humans. The advent of high throughput genomic tools such as transcriptomics has provided us with new opportunities to better characterize the impact of diet on human metabolism and health.

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The aim of our work within our group in the Division of Human Nutrition is to further increase our understanding of the molecular effects of dietary interventions in humans using a comprehensive phenotyping approach by combining functional outcome measures with genomics tools before and after application of a so called ‘challenge’ test. This test aims to assess the body’s capability to cope with metabolic challenges as an indicator of health status.

Research topics

Adipose tissue distribution and phenotype

A surplus of adipose tissue is a key risk factor for development of diet-related diseases such as diabetes type 2 and vascular diseases. Part of the adverse effect of excess adiposity may be mediated by fat accumulation elsewhere in the body referred to as ectopic fat storage. The preservation of healthy adipose tissue that is able to store fat effectively may help to counteract ectopic fat storage. One of the goals of this research line is to characterize and identify the potential role of diets and nutrients in adipose tissue storage, distribution and overall phenotype. Several years ago we demonstrated that a diet high in saturated fatty acids promotes an obese-like pro-inflammatory gene expression pattern without any additional weight gain, showing the potential of nutrients to affect adipose tissue phenotype. Currently, we are investigating the potential of dietary interventions to specifically affect ectopic fat storage and adipose tissue phenotype (BellyFat).

PBMCs; role in vascular function and usage in biomarker profiling of nutritional efficacy and health

PBMCs travel throughout the body and are continuously exposed to various stimuli including numerous plasma metabolites and nutrients. In that respect PBMCs may be the perfect candidate cells to gauge systemic health. Within the field of nutrigenomics, PBMCs have gained interest for use in biomarker profiling to assess nutritional efficacy and health outcome measures. Within several projects we are exploring the possibility to use PBMCs transcriptomic profiles as marker of nutritional efficacy and health status. One of the projects is the EU-project NutriTech.

Besides reflecting systemic effects, PBMCs are key cells in regulating organ-specific and systemic immune function and inflammatory responses. Upon activation, blood cells can attach to and invade the vascular wall leading to foam cells formation and ultimately atherosclerosis. We are investigating how nutrition can affect vascular function by studying the effects on pathways, signalling routes and adhesion factors in PBMCs.

Current key projects