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Brown adipose tissue

High-calorie foods leads to BAT cell whitening

Dr Kenneth Walsh, director of the Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute at Boston University School of Medicine

Eating high-calorie foods leads to the dysfunction of brown adipose tissue (BAT also called brown fat) cells causing them to ‘whiten’, claim researchers from Boston University. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, claims to be the first to describe how overeating causes this whitening transformation. The research illustrates the important role that a healthy diet plays in overall health and the pivotal role that brown fat plays in metabolism.

"If we go back to when humans were hunter-gatherers, days could pass between when they could eat, so it was a survival advantage to be able to store excess energy in white fat cells," said Dr Kenneth Walsh, director of the Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the study's senior author. "What served us so well as primitive organisms is now hurting us because we have a continuous food supply and are accumulating too many white fat cells."

Using experimental models, the researchers demonstrate that over-nutrition leads to a cellular signalling dysfunction that causes BAT cells to lose neighbouring blood vessels, depriving the cells of oxygen. In turn, this causes the BAT cells to lose their mitochondria, which leads to their inability to burn fatty acids and produce heat.

This collapse can have far-reaching effects on the development of metabolic conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

The study results highlight the important relationship between fat tissue and the cardiovascular system, indicating that the cardiovascular risk factors that contribute to blood vessel damage, could also lead to the dysfunction of BAT cells.

"In addition to the expansion of white fat cells, our study shows that overeating causes brown fat cells to get locked into a death spiral, leading to their ultimate dysfunction," said Walsh. "More research needs to focus on whether stopping these activities from happening in brown fat cells could help combat obesity."

To access this paper, please click here

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