Biologists at The Scripps Research Institute have identified a new “on-off switch” that activates a powerful calorie-burning process in brown fat cells.
The research, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sheds light on how brown fat — which naturally raises metabolism and burns energy — stimulates weight loss and may also protect against diabetes.
“This finding offers new possibilities for the therapeutic activation of brown fat thermogenesis,” said lead researcher Anastasia Kralli, an associate professor in the institute’s Departments of Chemical Physiology and Cell Biology.
Most fat cells in the body are “white fat” — an unhealthy form stored when we eat too much an exercise too little. But recently discovered “brown fat” is a healthy form that burns calories to generate body heat. Activating such cells has been a key focus of researchers, who have discovered that low temperatures turn brown fat on.
“It’s like revving the engines of a lot of parked cars,” said researcher Marin Gantner, describing the process.
In the new study, Gantner, Kralli and their colleagues discovered a way of activating brown fat after screening about 18,000 different proteins. They found that one of them — known scientifically as GADD45γ — helps to switch on brown fat thermogenesis, just as cold temperatures do.
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