Fat-burning fat cells found in the neck
Brown fat cells are great at burning fat and sugar. They have so far only been spotted in infants, but now researchers have found them in the necks of adult patients. The discovery may prove crucial to future obesity research.
Danish researchers have made a special discovery in the neck region of adults. Here they found the brown fat cells that have so far only been found in new-born babies.
The discovery of these cells, known as classical Brown Antipose Tissue (BAT), may well have a major impact on future obesity research.
“When previous studies have observed brown fat activity in the neck region, it has turned out to be some other fat cells – ‘brite’ fat cells – which are not as effective at burning fat and sugar as the classical brown fat cells,” says the researcher behind the discovery, Camilla Scheele, a postdoctoral fellow the Centre of Inflammation and Metabolism at the Copenhagen University Hospital.
Brown fat cells are best fat burners
If scientists can develop a way of activating these brown fat cells in adults, they may end up with a drug that can effectively promote weight loss.
When previous studies have observed brown fat activity in the neck region, it has turned out to be some other fat cells – ‘brite’ fat cells – which are not as effective at burning fat and sugar as the classical brown fat cells.
”Unlike regular white fat cells, the brown fat cells consume large amounts of fat and sugar rather than storing it. In other words, brown fat burns fat when it is activated to do so. Brite fat cells function in the same way as the classical brown ones, but are nowhere near as potent,” says Scheele.
”So it’s great news that we have now also found the classical brown fat cells in adults. This will have a crucial impact on future research and treatment of obesity.”
Previous discoveries were not the real deal
The reason that researchers have finally traced the brown fat in adults is that the Copenhagen University Hospital has extensive experience in isolating this type of cells and the researchers are currently in close partnership with clinical departments that operate patients in the neck region.
“By isolating the cells in a way that enables them to maintain their characteristics, we can use them as models. This enables us to test how we can activate them and make them use their energy. We know for instance that they are activated when it’s cold. Here the brain sends signals to the cells, which then start generating heat and thus start burning fat and sugar,” she says.
“Practically speaking, though, being cooled down isn’t a very nice way of losing weight, so now we are testing how the brown fat cells respond to various hormones that may be able to activate them to burn fat and sugar.”
Translated by: Dann Vinther
- A Classical Brown Adipose Tissue mRNA Signature Partly Overlaps with Brite in the Supraclavicular Region of Adult Humans: Cell Metabolism, Volume 17, Issue 5, 798-805. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2013.04.0