A new finding about brown fat’s regulation in the body could give researchers and weight-loss companies a therapeutic target for obesity.
For a study in Cell Metabolism, Assistant Professor Sun Lei of Duke-NUS and his team examined long non-coding RNA in adipose (fat) tissue in mice. Long non-coding RNAs have recently gained appreciation as important control elements for different biological functions in the body.
The team created a catalogue of 1,500 long non-coding RNA in mouse adipose tissues—the most comprehensive catalogue of its type. Using the catalogue, they were then able to identify a specific long non-coding RNA without which the brown fat cell cannot develop properly.
Brown fat is currently under intense study for its potential role in obesity prevention. There are two types of adipose tissue found in the human body—white adipose tissue (white fat) and brown adipose tissue (brown fat). Brown fat is needed for heat generation in babies, and it was previously believed that as we grow up, our brown fat disappears. However, it is now clear that brown fat can still develop in adults, where it has been shown to speed up metabolism and burn calories.
“We wanted to investigate what makes brown fat unique,” explains Lei. “The mechanisms that drive or guide the development of brown fat will have therapeutic potential, and we are excited to have found such a mechanism.”
Worldwide, more than 1.9 billion adults are classified as overweight while 600 million of these adults are obese. The worldwide prevalence of obesity has more than doubled between 1980 and 2014. As the proportion of people who are overweight and obese rises, so does the risk of its associated diseases.
In fact, most of the world’s population lives in countries where being overweight and obese kills more people than being underweight. There is an urgent need to develop a new therapeutic strategy for obesity.
The next step before this new knowledge can be applied is to identify such a long non-coding RNA in humans. Researchers and pharmaceutical companies can then test ways to exploit long coding RNA to maximize brown fat production in order to speed up weight loss.
The National Research Foundation Singapore supported the work.