Flipping a Switch to Drop the Pounds

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fat-cell-300x212Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla, California have found a way to “switch on” a calorie-burning process in brown fat cells. The study, which was reported on in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looks at a process known as “brown fat thermogenesis.” Most of our fat cells are “white fat” cells used for storing fat in reserve for when energy is needed. But humans and other mammals also harbor deposits of “brown fat” cells. These are not there to store energy, but rather to burn it up quickly in order to generate heat to keep the body warm in cold conditions. In humans the brown fat is found mostly in the neck and shoulders where it seems to regulate weight and blood sugar.

Brown fat thermogenesis is set off by low temperatures. The mitochondria in the brown cells receive a signal via the sympathetic nervous system which makes them generate heat. Finding a way to start this process at will could lead to a new, easy way to lose weight. In an effort to do this, the TRSI scientists relying on clues from previous research, screened about 18,000 different proteins to find those possibly involved with activating thermogenesis. They ended up focusing in on GADD45γ and found that it worked synergistically with another protein, PGC-1α to activate brown cell activity.

Brown fat thermogenesis can naturally stimulate weight loss and may also protect against diabetes. So, the insight gained from this research may one day lead to artificially activating the process to help treat the more than 100 million obese or diabetic people found in the U.S. alone. “This finding offers new possibilities for the therapeutic activation of brown fat thermogenesis,” said team leader Anastasi a Kralli of TRSI.

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