Where fat cells originate, exactly, has been less than clear. Yes, fat cells have their precursors, such as adipogenic stem cells, but these tend to hide in the stromal vascular fraction, a shadowy region where cells of different types are hard to distinguish. To shine a bright light on stromal cells, scientists based at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETHZ) resorted to a technique called single-cell transcriptomics, which allowed them to identify several stromal cell subpopulations, including a subpopulation that inhibits the formation of fat.

This reclusive subpopulation consists of cells the EPFL/ETHZ team calls adipogenesis-regulatory cells, or Aregs. These scientists, who found Aregs first in the fat tissue of mice, and then in human fat, hope that they can be harnessed to modulate the plasticity of human adipose tissue. In the long run, this could improve our ability to control obesity …