Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue, is a special type of fat that “turns on” (becomes activated) when you get cold, to help maintain body temperature. Importantly, brown fat is a biological fuel that can increase the metabolic rate, decrease fat storage, and thereby, lower one’s propensity for developing obesity. Interestingly, it was previously thought that individuals were born with only a finite number of brown fat cells. Here, and for the first time, a recent publication in the journal Scientific Reports identifies that brown fat can continue to grow and divide, even after birth. This finding has major implications; scientists can try to increase the overall number of these cells to prevent or reduce the onset of obesity.
Dr. Zhiqiang Lin, Assistant Professor and senior author of the manuscript, together with his research team at the Masonic Medical Research Institute (MMRI), quantified the number of brown fat cells present in newborn animals. “For years, researchers have been arguing over whether brown fat continues to grow after birth—we can now say with certainty that it does. This discovery opens a whole new direction for future breakthroughs. Our next step will focus on identifying the developmental signals responsible for the growth of brown fat cells and determining whether we can manipulate gene expression to generate more” said Dr. Lin.
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