Researchers Target Obesity - Turn Fat into Muscle

Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have been experimenting with cells from mice, that are precursors to brown fat (good fat). They surprised themselves when they discovered they could actually produce brown fat in the lab, then turn it into muscle. They accomplished the task by knocking out a molecular switch, PRDM16, which regulates the creation of brown fat. By eliminating PRDM16 in brown fat cells, they were then able to convert the cells into muscle. The study is reported in the Aug. 21issue of the journal Nature.

Bruce Spiegelman, PhD, who led the research team says, the “huge surprise”, was that muscle precursor cells known as "satellite cells" can give birth to brown fat cells when they are controlled by PRDM16, the “master regulator" of brown fat development.” If the lab results can be applied to humans, the scientists may find a new application for treatment of obesity in humans. "I think we now have very convincing evidence that PRDM16 can turn cells into brown fat cells, with the possibility of combating obesity,” says Spiegelman.

Brown fat burns calories and releases energy, unlike calorie-storing white fat that accumulates when we gain weight. Humans have very little brown fat; it is prevalent in human and rodent infants, and protects from the cold, acting as an energy release.

Dr. Spiegelman and his team have focused their research on fat cells in relation to cancer, obesity and diabetes, with a focus on brown fat. In 2007, the research team injected PRDM16 genes into white fat precursors implanted under the skin of mice. The PRDM16 switch resulted in brown fat production instead of white fat.(1) Turning on PDRM16 "is very powerful at what it does," according to Dr. Spiegelman, a professor of cell biology at Harvard Medical School.

Though the study is interesting, more research is needed before any practical application develops. However, we may be a step closer to combating the obesity epidemic. For information and help on weight control, visit the Weight Control Information Network (WIN), from the Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

(1)Metabolic switch delivers healthy fat

Source: Making 'good' fat from muscle and vice versa

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