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Scientists Identify Cells in Mice That Can Transform Into Energy

Source: 1. Tim J. Schulza, Tian Lian Huanga, Thien T. Trana, et al. PNAS January 4, 2011 vol. 108 no. 1 143-148.

Brown fat cells in adults have been shown to be quite different from white fat cells in that they burn energy rather than store it. Unfortunately, most of us don't have much brown fat as compared to white fat. However, researchers at the Joslin Diatebes Center have discovered progenitor cells in white fat and skeletal tissue in mice that can be transformed into brown fat cells.

Yu-Hua Tseng, PhD led the study and her results are published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tseng and her colleagues performed in vitro tests of mouse cells found in fat tissues and skeletal muscle. When those cells were exposed to a certain protein, called BMP-7 many of these cells displayed characteristics of brown fat cells. Conversion rates increased for progenitor cells found in subcutaneous white fat when exposed to BMP-7 and a diabetes drug called rosiglitazone.

In addition, the researchers were able to inject exposed precursor cells into mice, where the cells were found to survive and grow into mature brown fat. This result suggests that cell-based brown fat therapies may be possible one day, if efforts to develop effective drugs don't work out.

Tseng says, "Given that obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other metabolic disease, finding new ways to reduce body weight is really essential. Of course, diet and exercise are still the best approaches for losing weight in the general population, but for people who are genetically predisposed to obesity, or those who already develop detrimental metabolic disorders due to excess body weight, there is an urgent need to develop new interventions for effective and safe weight reduction. These results appear to take a significant step toward using brown fat cells in such therapies."

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