An international team of scientists have discovered that blocking a certain protein can increase fat burning, and could signal a novel treatment to combat obesity.
Brown fat is an avenue of research that scientists across the world are investigating. Its primary role is to generate body heat and the activation of brown fat cells significantly increases the rate at which calories are burned. This potentially makes it valuable to future treatments for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
People who are overweight or obese have a large number of white fat cells, which are known as the ‘bad’ type of fat. These cells create fatty deposits in the body, but brown fat cells ‘burn off’ these deposits by releasing energy stored in the form of heat.
A study team led by Professor Alexander Pfeifer, Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Bon, discovered a ‘switch’ in the fat cells of mice. This switch led to accelerated fat burning.
This switch activated the Gq protein, which a high number of receptors in brown fat cells bind to. Activation of the Gq protein in mouse fat cells led to a decreased number and quality of brown fat cells.
“On the other hand, if Gq is blocked with an inhibitor, more brown fat cells mature,” said Ph.D. student Katarina Klepac.
In other words, blocking the Gq protein led to white fat cells changing into brown cells. The same findings also applied to beige fat cells – these are brown cells that can emerge in white fat deposits. Inhibiting the Gq protein resulted in more brown ‘fat burners’ forming within beige fat cells.
The researchers conducted the same experiment on human fat cells. “Even in human fat cells, it was shown that brown fat cells can grow much better once Gq proteins were blocked,” said Pfeifer.
While this research is highly promising, it will likely be a long time before suitable treatment therapies are available to boost fat burning in obese patients.
The findings appear in Nature Communications.

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