New system can measure how fat cells start burning energy

February 2, 2018

A team of researchers led by the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute has developed a new system to measure how fat cells can be activated to burn energy. 

The human body contains two types of fat cells: white fat cells and thermogenic fat cells. White fat stores energy in the form of lipids. Thermogenic fat — brown fat and related beige fat — meanwhile, can be activated to burn energy through a process called thermogenesis, turning stored energy into heat. Prompting these fat cells to start burning energy has the potential to lead to weight loss and improved metabolic health.  

Researchers, however, have struggled to accurately monitor the thermogenic activity of brown and beige fat cells, which is key to discovering how to harness their potential to improve health.

A new system, described in the International Journal of Obesity, directly assesses thermogenic fat activation by monitoring cellular oxygen levels. As a result, it can be used to evaluate the activity of thermogenic fat cells in response to a variety of stimuli, broadening the ways in which thermogenic fat can be monitored and studied.

The research team — which included members of the labs of both Jun Wu, Ph.D., and Jiandie Lin, Ph.D., at the LSI — believes the new system (dubbed OTLAM for ODD-Luc based Thermogenic Activity Measurement) will have a wide range of applications, from basic research to future drug discovery.

Top Image: "'More to love' Adipose tissue." Credit: Odra Noel. CC BY-NC (via Wellcome Collection)

Go to Article

An OLTAM system for analysis of brown/beige fat thermogenic activity, International Journal of Obesity. 10.1038/ijo.2017.308