A specific protein regulates the burning of body fat to generate heat

October 11, 2017, Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares
A specific protein regulates the burning of body fat to generate heat
Thermal image of a mouse, with white indicating the location of brown fat (maximum heat generation). Credit: Nuria Matesanz, CNIC.

Scientists at the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares Carlos III (CNIC) have identified a protein that holds promise as a target for therapies to reduce obesity. Drs. Guadalupe Sabio and Nuria Matesanz have demonstrated that MKK6 controls the conversion of fat stores, known as white fat, into brown fat, in which lipids are burned to maintain body temperature and reduce obesity. The study is published today in Nature Communications.

Obesity is a global epidemic, with overweight or obesity affecting an estimated 2200 million people worldwide. The research team led by Guadalupe Sabio analyzed fat tissue samples from obese patients at the University Hospital in Salamanca, and found that these samples contained above-normal levels of the protein MKK6. Detailed analysis of MKK6 function showed that this protein impedes the conversion of fat stores, known as , into , in which lipids are burned to maintain body temperature.

Brown fat has attracted a lot of interest in recent years among obesity researchers. Body fat is essential for maintaining an appropriate energy balance and regulating body temperature. But not all fat is the same. The body contains two types of fat tissue: White adipose tissue is a store of excess calories, whereas burns lipids to maintain body temperature. Brown fat can be activated by cold to generate heat instead of storing fat. But the most interesting observation is that can be converted into brown adipose tissue, thus increasing body temperature. According to Dr. Sabio, this has led to a burgeoning interest in the clinical potential of brown fat. "Activation of this tissue could reduce excess weight," he says. According to Nuria Matesanz, the results of the study indicate that obese individuals lose the ability to activate brown fat or to convert white fat in to brown, and therefore are unable to lose weight via this route.

In addition to the participation of partners at the the University Hospital in Salamanca, the Nature Communications study was conducted in collaboration with the research group led by Dr. José Antonio Enríquez at the CNIC and research teams from the Universidad de Extremadura and the Centro de Investigación en Medicina Molecular y Enfermedades Crónicas (CiMUS) in Santiago de Compostela.

The researchers found that the inability to convert white fat to brown in is caused by increased amounts of the protein kinase MKK6. Through the use of animal models, the research team was able to demonstrate that MKK6 prevents the conversion of white fat into brown. Mice lacking MKK6 have more brown fat; consequently, these mice are protected against obesity and eliminate excess energy as heat.

The research also demonstrated that eliminating MKK6 after mice had become obese stopped the further development of obesity and led to a drop in body weight. These findings all point to the potential of MKK6 as a therapeutic target in the fight against .

Explore further: New findings on mechanisms for body temperature regulation by fat tissue

More information: Nuria Matesanz et al, MKK6 controls T3-mediated browning of white adipose tissue, Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00948-z

Related Stories

New findings on mechanisms for body temperature regulation by fat tissue

October 5, 2017
New discoveries about the mechanism responsible for heat generation in the body related to fat tissue oppose classical views in the field and could lead to new ways to fight metabolic disorders associated with obesity, according ...

Researchers find way to convert bad body fat into good fat

September 19, 2017
There's good fat and bad fat in our bodies. The good fat helps burn calories, while the bad fat hoards calories, contributing to weight gain and obesity. Now, new research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. ...

Turning on blood flow turns on fat-burning brown fat in mice

March 2, 2016
Increasing the blood flow in brown fat causes it to burn more calories in mice and may help treat obesity, a new study in the Journal of Applied Physiology reports.

Study finds a novel way to target brown fat regulation to reduce obesity

April 23, 2015
A study by researchers in Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore (Duke-NUS) has shown a new way that brown fat, a potential obesity-fighting target, is regulated in the body. This finding gives researchers and weight-loss ...

Making metabolically active brown fat from white fat-derived stem cells

March 3, 2017
Researchers have demonstrated the potential to engineer brown adipose tissue, which has therapeutic promise to treat metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, from white adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs). The ...

Study of 3,000 PET-Scans yields new data on the proportion of brown fat

March 1, 2017
Compared to white fat, brown body fat burns through energy at an extraordinary rate. However, until now the proportion of brown fat in humans was thought to be quite small. Now a study conducted by researchers at the Technical ...

Recommended for you

Lab-on-a-chip delivers critical immunity data for vulnerable populations

April 25, 2018
For millions of displaced people around the world—many of them refugees, living in temporary shelters under crowded conditions—an outbreak of disease is devastating. Each year, the measles virus kills more than 134,000 ...

Want new medicines? You need fundamental research

April 25, 2018
Would we be wise to prioritize "shovel-ready" science over curiosity-driven, fundamental research programs? Would that set the stage for the discovery of more new medicines over the long term?

Implantable islet cells come with their own oxygen supply

April 25, 2018
Since the 1960s, researchers have been interested in the possibility of treating type 1 diabetes by transplanting islet cells—the pancreatic cells that are responsible for producing insulin when blood glucose concentration ...

'Incompatible' donor stem cells cure adult sickle cell patients

April 25, 2018
Doctors at the University of Illinois Hospital have cured seven adult patients of sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder primarily affecting the black community, using stem cells from donors previously thought to ...

Research explains link between exercise and appetite loss

April 24, 2018
Ever wonder why intense exercise temporarily curbs your appetite? In research described in today's issue of PLOS Biology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine researchers reveal that the answer is all in your head—more specifically, ...

Mammary stem cells challenge costly bovine disease

April 24, 2018
Mastitis is the most expensive disease in the dairy industry. Each clinical case can cost a dairy farmer more than $400 and damages both the cow's future output as well as her comfort.

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.