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Good Fat May Help In Battle Against Obesity

August 21, 2008

New research shows that brown fat cells, known as the “good” kind that burn energy, may provide new insights into treatment of obesity.

Two teams ““ one from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and the other from the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, studied the origins of the brown fat cells, and reported their findings in the journal Nature.

The Joslin Center team discovered that a protein important for bone growth helped promote the development of brown fat tissue in mice.

Researchers at the Dana Farber Institute found that by using a single molecular switch they were able to turn immature muscle cells into brown fat cells in the lab. This suggested that brown fat cells may be more closely related to muscle cells than white fat cells.

“What we show in this paper is kind of a big shock. We show that brown fat is derived from a muscle-like cell, and that brown fat and white fat are completely different,” Dana-Farber’s Bruce Spiegelman, who worked on the research, said.

His team previously found that PRDM16, a kind of genetic switch called a gene transcription factor, appears to regulate the development of brown fat cells.

When Spiegelman’s team removed PRDM16 from immature brown fat cells in the lab, something strange happened.

“The dish filled up with muscle,” Spiegelman said. “What it means is that muscle cells are precursor cells to brown fat cells.”

His team is now looking for a drug that could chemically stimulate PRDM16 to make more brown fat cells, which would shift the metabolism into more of a fat-burning mode.

Meanwhile, researchers led by Yu-Hua Tseng of the Joslin Diabetes Center found the protein BMP-7, known for inducing bone growth, can also promote the development of brown fat cells.

When Tseng’s team delivered this protein into mice through a virus, the mice made more brown fat tissue.

And they found mice that developed extra brown fat tissue gained less weight than other mice, suggesting a potential use in weight loss.

“We hope this study can be translated into applications to help treat or prevent obesity,” Tseng said in a statement.

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