It may sound like an oxymoron, but some of the fat in your body can actually make you less fat. Brown fat helps keep you warm by burning fatty acids. The more brown, calorie-burning fat you have, the lesser your chances of becoming obese.
Scientists had previously discovered that exercise can help convert regular white fat into brown fat. But not everyone can exercise, especially those who are obese. Could there be another way to jump start that conversion?
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have discovered how a protein, PRDM16, controls the change from white fat to brown. If scientists could prompt that protein into action, they may be able to promote the presence of brown fat.
Diabetes drugs in the class of PPAR-gamma ligands have been shown to increase production of brown fat, but researchers weren't sure why. The UCSF team found that in mice, PPAR-gamma works by stabilizing PRDM16, so there's more of the protein inside cells. This accumulation of PRDM16 throws the switch that turns white fat into brown fat.
In order for this to become a reliable therapy for humans, scientists need to be sure that PPAR-gamma has the same effect on the PRDM16 protein in people as it does in mice. If the researchers are able to engineer PPAR-gamma to effectively stabilize PRDM16 in humans, they could have a highly effective pharmacological tool to maintain brown fat levels and treat obesity.