People have two types of fat in their body: brown fat and white fat. The difference between these two types of fat is that brown fat burns energy and keeps you metabolically active, while white fat stores excess energy and deposits primarily beneath your skin — including the midriff. White fat is associated with health issues such as obesity. To understand more about brown fat and its location in the body, researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School are studying brown fat and its distribution throughout the body in hopes of combating obesity.
One of the difficulties in studying brown fat cells at the molecular level is being able to find them in the body. To get a handle on this, UTHealth researchers have developed a way to mark brown fat in an animal model that can be viewed with whole body imaging. This proof-of-concept study is available in Nature Communications.
Brown fat is found more commonly in children, however, more recently it has been discovered in adults. This is of importance because brown fat is responsible for heat generation, and carries high significance in terms of metabolic diseases. In order to study brown fat, one has to be able to find where it is distributed to make measurements, which has been quite a technical challenge.
Mikhail Kolonin, Ph.D., associate professor at the UTHealth Center for Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine and senior author of the study, along with his colleagues , report they have developed a peptide probe that marks brown fat, which can identify brown fat tissues in a mouse model and can be viewed with whole body imaging. The probe can be administered intravenously and is coupled with a dye that is visible on scans. Kolonin notes, “This is the first targeted imaging approach for the detection of brown fat.”
If the probe system proves itself in clinical trials, physicians would be able to personalize therapies for metabolic disorders/obesity based on brown/white fat ratios. Additionally, the probe may allow for monitoring of brown fat stimulation and its progression.
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