Findings from a recent study may offer new treatment options for obesity and related metabolic conditions by targeting brown adipose tissue.

The research, led by The University of California, Los Angeles, pinpointed nerve pathways that supply brown adipose tissue (BAT) which could enable targeted BAT activation and provide a new weight loss solution.

These findings provide a framework for further research into activating human BAT, a tissue that releases chemical energy from fat metabolism – the breaking down of fats in the body – as heat.

Senior author Dr Preethi Srikanthan said: “The researchers have for the first time detailed this nerve supply and provided examples of how manipulating it can change BAT activity, marking a first step toward understanding how to use it therapeutically.”

Dr Srikanthan, is a professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism and the director of the Neural Control of Metabolism Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

She added: “We know from previous literature that the sympathetic nerve system is the main ‘on switch’ for BAT activity. However, the sympathetic nervous system is also responsible for many other stimulatory effects on organs such as the heart and gut.

“Finding a way to increase activity of BAT alone has been challenging, so finding out the path these sympathetic nerves take to BAT will allow us to explore ways of using nerves to provide a very specific stimulus to activate BAT.”

The study involved tracing sympathetic nerve branches to supraclavicular fat pad in the necks of eight human corpses.

The study stated: “Nerve branches terminating in supraclavicular fat pad were identified in all dissections, including those from the 3rd and 4th cervical nerves and from the cervical sympathetic plexus.”

Researchers found that where neck pathology had created a change in the nerves, such as an increased BAT temperature after a tumour removal, BAT activity had altered.

“There is a need to find long-term solutions for obesity, and while we are lucky to have effective drugs such as Wegovy and Mounjaro, people need to take them long-term for weight loss,” explained Dr Srikanthan.

The researchers hope that their findings will contribute to developing a method to encourage BAT to continuously create fat-burning heat.

“There is literature suggesting — and we are doing another study to confirm it — that these drugs act by stimulating BAT,” said Dr Srikanthan. “By identifying the nerve pathways supplying BAT we hope to explore methods of chronically stimulating nerves to BAT and hopefully achieving similar therapeutic outcomes of weight loss.”

The research was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.

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