Brown Fat Cell Discovery May Lead to Treatment of Obesity

A new study by scientists at Sahlgrenska Academy, Sweden, shows that humans have two different types of brown fat cells, not one as previously thought.

Newly identified type of brown adipocyte (University of Gothenburg)

Newly identified type of brown adipocyte (University of Gothenburg)

According to scientists, the body’s brown fat cells play a key role in the development of obesity and diabetes. Unlike white fat cells, which store the body’s surplus energy in the form of fat, brown fat cells have the unique property of being able to burn energy and turn it into heat.

The new research published in the journal Nature Medicine reveals that people have at least two different kinds of brown fat cells.

“We already know that those of us who have more brown fat tissue have a smaller risk of developing type 2 diabetes,” said lead author Dr Sven Enerbäck.

With these new results, we should eventually be able to develop methods for stimulating the brown fat tissue, so that some of the surplus energy we store in the form of fat tissue can be converted into heat. Such a treatment could both prevent obesity and reduce the risk of developing obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes.”

The team calls the new type of brown fat tissue – ‘classical brown fat.’ According to the study, infants have this classic brown fat tissue, but it seems to disappear during adolescence.

“One idea is to be able to ‘reactivate’ the classical brown fat tissue in older people and so treat obesity,” Dr Enerbäck said.


Bibliographic information: Martin E Lidell et al. Evidence for two types of brown adipose tissue in humans. Nature Medicine, published online April 21, 2013; doi:10.1038/nm.3017