In mammals, there are two types of fat cells – brown and white. Brown fat expends energy, white fat stores it. The latter increases your risk of diabetes and heart disease, and the danger is especially linked to visceral fat. Visceral fat is the build-up of fat around the organs in the belly. So in the battle against obesity, brown fat appears to be our friend and white fat our foe.
Now a team of scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School has discovered how to turn foe into friend. By manipulating the metabolic pathways in the body responsible for converting vitamin A – or retinol – into retinoic acid, they have essentially made white fat take on characteristics of brown fat.
The researchers found that inhibiting the Aldh1a1 gene by injecting antisense molecules into mice (made fat by diet) resulted in less visceral fat, less weight gain, and lower glucose levels compared to control mice.
Their findings bring science a step closer to developing potential new treatments for obesity. The full results of the study are published in Nature Medicine.