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UCLA Discovers Weight Loss Game-Changer: Stimulating Brown Fat To Fight Obesity

UCLA-led research identifies nerve pathways to brown adipose tissue (BAT) with potential implications for obesity treatments. The discovery may enable targeted BAT activation, offering a new approach to weight loss solutions.

A UCLAThe University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is a public land-grant research university in Los Angeles, California. It is organized into the College of Letters and Science and 12 professional schools. It is considered one of the country's Public Ivies, and is frequently ranked among the best universities in the world by major college and university rankings.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>UCLA-led team of researchers has found nerve pathways that supply brown adipose tissue (BAT), a type of tissue that releases chemical energy from fat metabolism as heat – a finding that could pave the way toward using it to treat obesity and related metabolic conditions.

The researchers have for the first time detailed this nerve supply and provided examples of how manipulating it can change BAT activity, marking a first step toward understanding how to use it therapeutically, said senior author Dr. Preethi Srikanthan, professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology, diabetes & metabolism, and the director of the Neural Control of Metabolism Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. The largest deposits of BAT are in the neck.

Significance of Sympathetic Nerve System

“We know from previous literature that the sympathetic nerve system is the main ‘on switch’ for BAT activity,” Srikanthan said. “However, the sympathetic nervous system is also responsible for many other stimulatory effects on organs such as the heart and gut. Finding a way to increase activity of BAT alone has been challenging, so finding out the path these sympathetic nerves take to BAT will allow us to explore ways of using nerves to provide a very specific stimulus to activate BAT.”

The paper was published on October 4 in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.

Research Methodology and Implications

The researchers dissected the necks of eight cadavers to trace the distribution of sympathetic nerve branches in the fat pad above the clavicle. They found nerve branches in all the dissections from the third and fourth cervical nerves to BAT. Further, they demonstrated that BAT activity had changed in clinical cases where neck pathology, such as an increase in BAT temperature following removal of a tumor, had effected a change in the nerves.

”There is a need to find long-term solutions for obesity, and while we are lucky to have effective drugs such as Wegovy and Mounjaro, people need to take them long-term for weight loss,” Srikanthan said.

The researchers hope to use the knowledge gleaned from this study to find a way to coax BAT into producing a constant source of fat-burning heat.

“There is literature suggesting — and we are doing another study to confirm it — that these drugs act by stimulating BAT,” she said. “By identifying the nerve pathways supplying BAT we hope to explore methods of chronically stimulating nerves to BAT and hopefully achieving similar therapeutic outcomes of weight loss.”

Limitations of the Study

Study limitations include the small number of cadavers dissected and the high age of the donated cadavers, which have a smaller amount of BAT compared to younger bodies.

Reference: “Sympathetic innervation of the supraclavicular brown adipose tissue: A detailed anatomical study” by Shumpei Mori, Ryan S. Beyer, Breno Bernardes de Souza, Julie M. Sorg, Donald B. Hoover, Harold S. Sacks, Michael C. Fishbein, Grace Chang, Warwick J. Peacock, Maie A. St. John, James Law, Micheal E. Symonds, Olujimi A. Ajijola, Kalyanam Shivkumar and Preethi Srikanthan, 4 October 2023, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0290455

Study co-authors are Dr. Shumpei Mori, Ryan Beyer, Dr. Breno Bernardes de Souza, Julie Sorg, Dr. Harold Sacks, Dr. Michael Fishbein, Dr. Grace Chang, Dr. Warwick Peacock, Dr. Maie St. John, Dr. Olujimi Ajijola, and Dr. Kalyanam Shivkumar of UCLA; Dr. Donald Hoover of East Tennessee State University, and Dr. James Law and Dr. Michael Symonds of University of NottinghamThe University of Nottingham is a public research university located in Nottingham, England. It was founded in 1881 and is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the country. The University of Nottingham has a wide range of academic programs and disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, and medicine. It is known for its strong research and has a number of research centers and institutes focused on various fields, including environmental science, energy, and health. It is a member of the Russell Group, a group of leading research-intensive universities in the UK.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>University of Nottingham, UK.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of HealthThe National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and public health research. Founded in 1887, it is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The NIH conducts its own scientific research through its Intramural Research Program (IRP) and provides major biomedical research funding to non-NIH research facilities through its Extramural Research Program. With 27 different institutes and centers under its umbrella, the NIH covers a broad spectrum of health-related research, including specific diseases, population health, clinical research, and fundamental biological processes. Its mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>National Institutes of Health (OT2OD023848).

Source: SciTechDaily