Researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered a new set of signals that cells send and receive to prompt one type of fat cell to convert fat into heat. The signaling pathway was found in mice and has potential implications for activating this same type of thermogenic fat in humans.
Thermogenic fat cells, also known as beige fat, have been noted for their potential to curb obesity and other metabolic disorders given their ability to burn energy stored as fat, but this potential has yet to be translated into effective therapies. Activating these cells is complicated because the process is regulated by adrenergic signaling, which instructs beige fat cells to start burning but also controls other important biological functions, like blood pressure and heartbeat regulation. This means that activating it in humans with agonists could have potentially dangerous side effects.
A new study by U-M researchers describes a pathway that can regulate beige fat thermogenesis independently of adrenergic signaling, which may lead to new possibilities for therapies.