February 6, 2012

The Heart Can Make ‘Bad’ Fat Burn Calories

Brown adipose tissue (often known as brown fat) is a specialized tissue that burns calories to generate body heat in rodents and newborn humans. Recently, adult humans have also been found to possess brown fat. This piqued the interest of researchers seeking to combat the obesity epidemic, the thought being that increasing the amount of brown fat a person has will make them lose weight. A team of researchers led by Sheila Collins, at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, Orlando, has now determined that hormones produced by the heart known as cardiac natriuretic peptides can cause regular fat cells (white adipocytes) from mice and humans to take on characteristics of brown fat cells in vitro. Moreover, infusing one cardiac natriuretic peptide into mice caused regular white fat to upregulate markers of brown fat and increase energy usage. Collins and colleagues hope that with further mechanistic studies it might be possible to exploit these findings clinically to help combat the obesity epidemic.

In an accompanying commentary, Andrew Whittle and Antonio Vidal-Puig, at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, highlight the importance of the data generated by Collins and colleagues and discuss the clinical implications of the results.


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