Sunday, January 6, 2013

Keeping a fat balance may counter obesity

Obesity can be characterized as the accumulation of too much fat, causing health problems. Fat is normally regarded as universally bad, but the body is actually more complex. There is 'good' and 'bad' fat, otherwise known as brown and white fat, respectively. Brown fat is more than just a useless lump of mass in your body: it has all kind of metabolic purposes, and does not make you obese in the way that white fat does. It appears that a mismatch in the balance between brown and white fat may be one of the underlying causes of obesity, a new study suggests. They also found a protein that is associated with keeping this balance, which therefore poses as an interesting target.

According to researchers from the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, a protein called P62 plays an important role in the regulation of the fat balance. Without this particular molecule, mice rapidly become obese, a study previously showed. Now, further experiments have revealed that P62 is mostly needed inside the fat tissue, where it influences the balance between white and brown fat. The study was conducted in mice.

P62 functions by influencing certain signalling pathways that impact both brown and white fat. In brown fat, it stimulates a certain pathway that makes it more active, while it simultaneously inhibits the development of white fat through another signalling pathway. The mechanism explains why this particular protein is needed in the fat tissue, in order to prevent the production of new white, bad fat.

The study by the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute shows that P62 is an interesting target for new obesity therapies. Activating P62 in fat tissue may shift the balance, resulting in less white fat, while stimulating the development of brown fat. Obviously, such therapies are years away, as scientists first have to prove that the same thing applies to humans, although this seems likely.

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