Researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center have been researching ways to generate fat loss by stimulating brown fat production.

In a recent study (published in Nature), they have shown that a protein called BMP-7 can promote the development of brown fat. This is good news.

While the white fat cells that cover our doughy North American bodies are seen as the bane of our collective overweight existence, their brown fat cousins are superstars at burning calories.

What? Yep. You read that right. Fat that burns calories.

The primary function of brown fat is to generate body heat.

In contrast to white fat cells, which contain a single lipid (fat) droplet, brown adipocytes contain numerous smaller droplets and a much higher number of mitochondria.

But more importantly, the main role of brown fat is to burn calories by generating heat.

Sadly, brown fat cells largely disappear by adulthood in humans, but their precursors still remain in the body.

It is these brown fat precursors that the researchers were targeting.

Brown Fat Distribution Patterns - Adult / Baby
Brown Fat Distribution Patterns – Adult / Baby

The Science

A 2005 Joslin study discovered genes that control the creation of the precursor cells of brown fat.

A 2007 Joslin study found clusters of brown fat cells dispersed between bundles of muscle fibers in an obesity-resistant strain of mice.

This latest study identified BMP-7 as the protein capable of causing the formation and activation of brown fat cells.

Knowing this, the researchers injected the mice with BMP-7.

Success!

According to the researchers, delivery of BMP-7 into mice using adenovirus as a vector resulted in an increase in the growth of brown fat.

In one of the experiments, the mice that developed brown fat tissue gained less weight than those that did not.

In another experiment, mice that received injections of progenitor cells, (similar to stem cells) that had been pre-treated with BMP-7 also developed additional brown fat tissue.

The difference between Stem cells and Progenitor cells
The difference between Stem cells and Progenitor cells

So what does this all mean?

  • The researchers were trying to discover what controls the development of brown fat cells.
  • They already knew that BMPs are a group of proteins known to regulate the formation of a baby’s organs during their embryonic development.
  • Their current research indicates that BMP-7 (and perhaps other BMPs) can control the fate of brown and white cells.

Brown and white fat cells….Turn one on and the other off.

Turn on ‘calorie burning’ fat and turn off ‘calorie storing’ fat. Now that is exciting.

More info on scientific research into obesity – here.
More info into dietary intervention of obesity – here.
More info on exercise intervention of obesity – here.