JUN 02, 2017 4:04 PM PDT

Towards an Understanding of how Brown fat Impacts Health & Disease

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Humans carry around two types of fat, white and brown. While it is known that brown fat has a role in how the body uses fat and sugar, and that brown fat helps keep our body warm when we’re in a cold environment, not a whole lot else is known about how brown fat influences health or disease. There is a lot of research interest, however, especially and unsurprisingly, when it comes to obesity and diabetes. One caveat has been the lack of an accepted animal model that can be used in research. New work from Baylor College of Medicine and other institutions and published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight is aiming to change that.

Adult mice have metabolically active, supraclavicular brown fat depots that share similarities with those in humans. / Credit: Miao-Hsueh Chen, Baylor College of Medicine

"In addition to white adipose tissue, or white fat, people have brown fat, an important contributor to the body's energy balance via the generation of body heat and the participation in metabolic processes," explained senior author Dr. Miao-Hsueh Chen, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Nutrition at Baylor College of Medicine and the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor and Texas Children's Hospital.

While both fats contain adipocytes, fat-filled cells, brown cells are especially rich in mitochondria, which supply every to the cell. These adipocytes utilize fat and glucose for energy.  There has been some characterization of brown fat in mice, indicating that it is located on the back and between the shoulder blades, unlike humans.

Humans carry their brown fat above the collar bones and in the neck. It had been thought that because the locations of these fat deposits were so different, research done on the mouse model would not be comparable to humans.  However, Chen and colleagues studied mouse embryos, and found that there was in fact brown fat in the neck, and around the collarbones in a location that is like that in humans. 

"Further studies showed that adult mice also have brown fat above the collar bones," Chen said. "This is important because studies will be carried out mostly in adults. In addition, mouse brown fat in the collar bone is morphologically similar to human brown fat in the same location, produces compounds involved in the production of heat and expresses genes similar to those expressed by human brown fat.”

Along with Dr. Kristin Stanford, Assistant Professor of Physiology and Cell Biology at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, the investigators performed transplantations of brown fat in mice. Stanford explains: "For several years, I've been interested in how to combat obesity and improve metabolic health. A few years ago, my lab developed a transplantation model looking at the effects of increasing brown fat above the shoulder blade in mice, and we saw a dramatic improvement in metabolic health. When Dr. Chen showed me her data identifying brown fat above the collar bone in mice, I was excited to collaborate and apply our transplantation model.”

After using transplantation to raise the amount of brown fat that sits above the collar bone in healthy mice, they researchers observed an improvement in glucose tolerance in the animals, confirming that it affects metabolism. “This brown fat depot, which is remarkably similar to the main brown fat depot in humans, can be metabolically beneficial," Stanford said. "This study highlights how important this tissue most likely is in humans.”

"I am most excited to bring this model to scientists in the field so they can use it to study brown fat," Chen said. "This model is the first step to improve our understanding of the role of human brown fat in metabolic processes. The model offers the possibility of carrying out studies that might result in treatments to reverse or prevent diseases such as type 2 diabetes and obesity.”

 

Learn more about using brown fat to aid in diabetes treatment from the video.

 

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via Baylor College of Medicine, Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
DEC 10, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
DEC 10, 2019
Household Dust Samples Found to Contain Potentially Toxic LCD Chemicals
Our technology may be impacting our health in ways we did not realize....
DEC 29, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
DEC 29, 2019
How close are we to a simple blood test for Parkinson's Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) alters nerve cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Famously regarded as the “happiness”...
DEC 31, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
DEC 31, 2019
Growing a Better Lab-Based Meat
Meat consumption has risen around the world in the past few decades, and demand is still increasing....
JAN 20, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 20, 2020
Braveheart RNA Structure is Revealed For the First Time
Protein-coding genes only make up a small part of the genome. Much of the rest may contain long, non-coding RNA sequences....
JAN 27, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
JAN 27, 2020
The 3D Ultrastructure of a Cell is Revealed
Seeing what's going on inside of cells presents many challenges that advances in microscopy have tried to address....
FEB 25, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
FEB 25, 2020
Improving Gene Therapy With Plant-Based Relatives of Cholesterol
Cholesterol analogs give nanoparticles a shape that helps them get where they need to go....
Loading Comments...