a1 INRA, UR1213 Herbivores Research Unit, F-63122 Saint-Genès-Champanelle, France
The lean-to-fat ratio, that is, the relative masses of muscle and adipose tissue, is a criterion for the yield and quality of bovine carcasses and meat. This review describes the interactions between muscle and adipose tissue (AT) that may regulate the dynamic balance between the number and size of muscle v. adipose cells. Muscle and adipose tissue in cattle grow by an increase in the number of cells (hyperplasia), mainly during foetal life. The total number of muscle fibres is set by the end of the second trimester of gestation. By contrast, the number of adipocytes is never set. Number of adipocytes increases mainly before birth until 1 year of age, depending on the anatomical location of the adipose tissue. Hyperplasia concerns brown pre-adipocytes during foetal life and white pre-adipocytes from a few weeks after birth. A decrease in the number of secondary myofibres and an increase in adiposity in lambs born from mothers severely underfed during early pregnancy suggest a balance in the commitment of a common progenitor into the myogenic or adipogenic lineages, or a reciprocal regulation of the commitment of two distinct progenitors. The developmental origin of white adipocytes is a subject of debate. Molecular and histological data suggested a possible transdifferentiation of brown into white adipocytes, but this hypothesis has now been challenged by the characterization of distinct precursor cells for brown and white adipocytes in mice. Increased nutrient storage in fully differentiated muscle fibres and adipocytes, resulting in cell enlargement (hypertrophy), is thought to be the main mechanism, whereby muscle and fat masses increase in growing cattle. Competition or prioritization between adipose and muscle cells for the uptake and metabolism of nutrients is suggested, besides the successive waves of growth of muscle v. adipose tissue, by the inhibited or delayed adipose tissue growth in bovine genotypes exhibiting strong muscular development. This competition or prioritization occurs through cellular signalling pathways and the secretion of proteins by adipose tissue (adipokines) and muscle (myokines), putatively regulating their hypertrophy in a reciprocal manner. Further work on the mechanisms underlying cross-talk between brown or white adipocytes and muscle fibres will help to achieve better understanding as a prerequisite to improving the control of body growth and composition in cattle.
(Received September 11 2009)
(Accepted February 15 2010)
(Online publication April 21 2010)