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University of Iowa News Release

 

Aug. 20, 2008

UI researcher helps identify protein with anti-obesity effect

A research team that included a University of Iowa scientist has identified an anti-obesity effect for a developmentally important protein involved in fat formation. The findings, which are published in the Aug. 21 issue of the journal Nature, may suggest a new target for obesity treatments.

The study was led by Yu-Hua Tseng, Ph.D., assistant investigator in the Section on Obesity at the Joslin Diabetes Center, and instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. Tseng and colleagues, including Andrew Norris, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, showed that Bone Morphogenic Protein 7 (BMP7) induces precursor cells to turn into brown fat -- the type of fat that burns energy and is thought to counteract obesity. The researchers also found that mice treated with BMP7 had increased energy expenditure and body temperature leading to significant weight reduction.

"The body makes two types of fat tissue: white and brown fat. White fat stores energy, and is what makes us obese. In contrast, brown fat burns energy, primarily to help warm the body. Thus, brown fat is thought to help protect against obesity," Norris explained. "Humans, unfortunately, do not normally make much brown fat and it is not well understood what determines how much brown versus white fat is made by the body."

The study reveals that BMP7 protein alone can promote the formation of brown fat from precursor cells both in a petri dish and in mice. Furthermore, mice that received BMP7 burned more energy than usual, which may explain why the animals were protected from obesity.

The study authors suggest that BMP7, or molecules that mimic its ability to promote formation of brown fat, might provide a new way to treat obesity in humans.

Norris's role in the research focused on the bioinformatics studies examining gene expression signature differences between brown and white fat. He also was involved in designing energy utilization tests.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Jennifer Brown, UI Health Care Media Relations, 319-335-9917, jennifer-l-brown@uiowa.edu