Lipid droplets (LDs), first recognised in the late 19th century, were originally considered to be inactive stores that were only present in specialised cells of adipose tissue, steroid hormone glands or the liver, leading to their presence being largely ignored by the scientific community for the next century. Despite a resurgence of interest in the early 1990s, whereby the first cell biological and molecular principles of LDs were described, it was still widely believed that they only responded passively to the metabolic needs of the cell. However, it has since been gradually accepted that LDs in reality play an active part in a great number of our physiological functions and virtually all of the body’s cells are able to generate LDs. Since finally recognising the active status of LDs in the human body’s cells, LD Biology is now considered its own research field, which is rapidly advancing to explore all the diverse functions of LDs in metabolic homeostasis across various tissues.
An expert in lipid biology and cellular biochemistry, Associate Professor Robin Klemm began his own work at the interface of lipid metabolism and cell biology during his PhD at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, where he produced seminal work on how sphingolipids and sterols contribute to the organisation of membrane structure and its importance in cellular secretion. His subsequent postdoctoral work at Harvard Medical School shed new light on mechanisms that shape intracellular organelles and when defective can lead to neurodegenerative diseases, such as hereditary spastic paraplegia. He began independent research at the University of Zurich, where he set out to better understand the cellular logistics of fat metabolism in white adipose tissue, consequently identifying new molecular players that spatially organise metabolic pathways in the cell. Moving his lab to DPAG in June 2020, Prof Klemm focuses on the spatial and molecular organisation of fat metabolism in fat cells known as adipocytes. According to Prof Klemm: “The mechanisms we aim to elucidate will advance our basic understanding of fat cell biology and hold great promise to improve our medical tool set in treating metabolic disorders such as type-II-diabetes and obesity.”
Later this year sees the publication of a special issue featuring a comprehensive summary of expert reviews of research into lipid droplets for Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology edited by Prof Klemm. The reviews included cover a broad range of topics, such as the fundamentals of LD architecture, LD biogenesis, how LDs cooperate with mitochondria in critical metabolic processes, connections between LDs and a nutrient stress response known as autophagy and LD functional diversity. Given the sheer pervasiveness of LDs in the human body, this special issue highlights the vital need to better understand LD biology and its metabolic functions, particularly in light of the fact that metabolic disorders such as obesity and type 2 diabetes are among the most prevalent diseases in the world.
Following the release of the issue's editorial online, Prof Klemm gave a special interview outlining the significance of LD research and how he approached putting together the issue, together with an introduction to how his own work fits into this vibrant newly emerged field and why he came to the department.
The special issue's editorial, "The cell biology of lipid droplets: More than just a phase," which references the other articles featured in the issue, is available to read on the Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology website.
December 2020 update: The full issue is now published online and available to read on ScienceDirect.
More information about Robin Klemm can be found on his DPAG profile page.
More information about the Klemm Group can be found on his research page.