Scientists identify protein that stimulates brown fat to burn calories

May 10, 2012

Scientists have identified a protein which regulates the activation of brown fat in both the brain and the body's tissues. Their research, which was conducted in mice, was published today, Friday 11 May, in the journal Cell.

Unlike white fat, which functions primarily to store up fat, brown fat (also known as ) burns fats to generate heat in a process known as thermogenesis. The research, led by scientists at the University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories at the Institute of Metabolic Science, discovered that the protein BMP8B acts on a specific (which operates in the brain and the tissues) to regulate brown fat, making it a potential .

The scientists believe that activating brown fat could help to support current weight loss programmes, which individuals often struggle to maintain.

Dr Andrew Whittle, one of the authors of the paper from the Institute of Metabolic Science, said: "Other proteins made by the body can enhance heat production in brown fat, such as but often these proteins have important effects in other organs too. Therefore they are not good targets for developing new weight loss treatments. However, BMP8B seems to be very specific for regulating the heat producing activity of brown fat, making it a more ideal mechanism for new therapies."

The experiments showed that when mice lacked the BMP8B they found it more difficult to maintain their normal body temperature. They also became much more obese than normal mice, particularly when fed a high-fat diet. Additionally, when the researchers treated brown fat cells with BMP8B they responded more strongly to activation by the . Furthermore, when BMP8B was administered to specific it increased the amount of nervous activation of brown adipose tissue. The result was that these BMP8B-treated brown burned more fat and mice given BMP8B in the brain lost weight.

Professor Toni Vidal-Puig, lead author of the study from the Institute of Metabolic Science and a member of the MRC Centre for Obesity and Related Metabolic Diseases, said: "A major feature of current weight-loss strategies is that people lose a lot of weight early on, but then reach a plateau despite continuing to follow the same diet regime. This is because the human body is incredibly good at sensing a reduction in food consumption and slows the metabolic rate to compensate. A strategy to increase activity could potentially be used in conjunction with current weight loss strategies to help prevent the typical decrease in a person's metabolic rate.

"One could be sceptical that techniques to increase metabolic rate might just be compensated by the body trying to make you want to eat more, to fuel this increased metabolism. But our findings showed that treating mice with Bmp8b did not have this effect, it simply made them lose weight by burning more fat in their brown adipose tissue.

"There are obvious differences between mice and humans, and from a therapeutic perspective this work is preliminary. Validation will be necessary to see if manipulating BMP8B would be safe and effective in humans."

Explore further: Orexin: A hormone that fights fat with fat

More information: The paper 'BMP8B Increases Brown Adipose Tissue Thermogenesis through Both Central and Peripheral Actions' will appear in the journal Cell on Friday, 11 May. Volume: 149; Issue: 4; Manuscript: 6246.

Related Stories

Orexin: A hormone that fights fat with fat

October 4, 2011
The fat we typically think of as body fat is called white fat. But there's another type—known as brown fat—that does more than just store fat. It burns fat. Scientists used to think that brown fat disappeared after ...

A new candidate pathway for treating visceral obesity

May 6, 2012
Brown seems to be the color of choice when it comes to the types of fat cells in our bodies. Brown fat expends energy, while its counterpart, white fat stores it. The danger in white fat cells, along with the increased risk ...

Calorie-burning brown fat is a potential obesity treatment, researchers say

June 6, 2011
A new study suggests that many adults have large amounts of brown fat, the "good" fat that burns calories to keep us warm, and that it may be possible to make even more of this tissue.

Brown fat burns calories in adult humans

January 24, 2012
Brown adipose tissue (often known as brown fat) is a specialized tissue that burns calories to generate body heat in rodents and newborn humans, neither of which shiver.

Recommended for you

Molecular hitchhiker on human protein signals tumors to self-destruct

July 24, 2017
Powerful molecules can hitch rides on a plentiful human protein and signal tumors to self-destruct, a team of Vanderbilt University engineers found.

Researchers develop new method to generate human antibodies

July 24, 2017
An international team of scientists has developed a method to rapidly produce specific human antibodies in the laboratory. The technique, which will be described in a paper to be published July 24 in The Journal of Experimental ...

A sodium surprise: Engineers find unexpected result during cardiac research

July 20, 2017
Irregular heartbeat—or arrhythmia—can have sudden and often fatal consequences. A biomedical engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis examining molecular behavior in cardiac tissue recently made a surprising ...

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.