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Brown fat

Targetting brown fat regulation to reduce obesity

This is an image of fat tissue (white cloud) and its nucleus (in blue) Credit: Alvarez-Dominguez and Bai, et al./Cell Metabolism 2015
The team created a catalogue of 1,500 long non-coding RNA in mouse adipose tissues, the most comprehensive catalogue ever created of its type

A study by researchers in Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore (Duke-NUS) has shown a new way that brown fat, a potential obesity-fighting target, is regulated in the body. The study findings, 'De Novo Reconstruction of Adipose Tissue Transcriptomes Reveals Long Non-coding RNA Regulators of Brown Adipocyte Development', published in Cell Metabolism, gives researchers and weight-loss companies a possible therapeutic target for obesity. Duke-NUS Assistant Professor Sun Lei and his team examined long non-coding RNA (Ribonucleic acid) in adipose (fat) tissue in mice. Long non-coding RNAs have recently become appreciated as important control elements for different biological functions in the body.

The team created a catalogue of 1,500 long non-coding RNA in mouse adipose tissues, which according to the researchers is the most comprehensive catalogue ever created of its type. Using the catalogue, they were then able to identify a specific long non-coding RNA without which the brown fat cell cannot develop properly.

Brown fat is needed for heat generation in babies, and it was previously believed that as we grow up, our brown fat disappears. However, it is now clear that brown fat can still develop in adults, where it has been shown to speed up metabolism and burn calories.

"We wanted to investigate what makes brown fat unique," said Lei, who is from the Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS. "The mechanisms that drive or guide the development of brown fat will have therapeutic potential, and we are excited to have found such a mechanism. Additionally, this research adds to our growing expertise on obesity and diabetes at Duke-NUS."

The next step before this new knowledge can be applied is to identify such a long non-coding RNA in humans. Researchers and pharmaceutical companies can then test ways to exploit long coding RNA to maximise brown fat production in order to speed up weight loss.

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