on-off switch

Fat be gone

on-off_switchWhat if you could flip a switch and start burning your excess fat? That could lead to more energy, and a lower risk of obesity and diseases such as type 2 diabetes. It sounds like a miracle switch, but researchers from the School of Medicine believe they have found it in the protein Grb10.

The body is made up of white and brown adipose tissue, also called fat tissue. White tissue stores fat, while brown tissue releases it through energy. Both are important for regulating metabolism, but having too much white adipose tissue could lead to weight and health problems.

“We know that if we want to keep our body lean, we have to get rid of extra nutrients in the body, which means burning more energy,” said Feng Liu, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at the Health Science Center and director of the Metabolic Syndrome Research Center at Second Xiangya Hospital, Central South University in Changsha, China.

Converting the white tissue to brown, or “beigeing” the fat, could lead to this increase in energy. The researchers discovered the molecular pathway called mTORC1 that controls this beigeing, and Grb10 acts as the on-off switch. This protein is stimulated by cold stress, which causes the body to burn energy.

“Understanding how beigeing is controlled is so very important because, if we can improve energy expenditure, we can reduce obesity,” Dr. Liu said.

The discovery has other implications, too. The mTORC1 pathway is also involved in aging, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

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