Written by justis berg
03 July 2010

Harnessing Brown Fat to Fight Obesity

Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is a high-energy tissue that converts food energy directly into heat, while white fat stores energy. Energy metabolism works through a series of coupled reactions. This means that energy released by breaking down fats, carbohydrates and proteins is captured in other reactions, such as ATP synthesis (a high-energy chemical) or stored as fats and carbohydrates. Uncoupling occurs when the energy from food breakdown is released as heat instead of capturing it as ATP.

Brown fat converts food energy directly into heat. It is so metabolically active that only 2 ounces of this tissue could burn 500 calories per day. Drug makers are attempting to harness uncoupling in brown fat and other cells to increase metabolic rate, which might help control body fat. Another technique might be to extract brown fat via liposuction, make it grow in the laboratory, and then reinfuse it back into the patient. Increasing brown fat production and activity might promote weight loss and help us conquer the obesity epidemic. (Genes and Development, 23: 788-797, 2009)