Recent data have indicated that the more brown fat cells a person has the lower their body mass. This contrasts with what is known for white fat cells, the more white fat cells a person has the greater their body mass. It has been suggested that manipulating the development of fat cells so that they become brown fat cells rather than white fat cells might be an approach to treat obesity.
However, before such an approach can be developed more needs to be learned about the mechanisms regulating the formation, expansion, and interconversion of these two cell types.
New research, performed by Mark Czaja and colleagues, at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, has now identified a cellular process that regulates the formation of the distinct fat cell types in mice. The research appears in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Specifically, in mice with fat cells unable to perform the cellular process known as autophagy, there were fewer white fat cells and more brown fat cells than normal. Further, these mice were leaner than normal.
The authors therefore conclude that autophagy has a critical role in determining the type of fat cell formed and suggest that this information might provide a new avenue to explore for those looking to develop therapies to treat obesity.
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