“This is an answer to many years of discussion in the field, where two views have been put forward: that the cells can have two different fates, brown or white, or that they were predetermined to be one or the other, as this study now shows. An additional and highly unexpected finding was that it could be demonstrated that the very young cells that were to become brown fat cells had characteristics similar to those of young muscle cells,” says Barbara Cannon, professor of physiology at the Wenner-Gren Institute, Stockholm University.

The discovery explains to some extent the property that primarily distinguishes brown fat from white fat, namely, its ability to use energy, which is something a muscle cell does in order to work.

Since there is an interest in being able to make use of the potential of brown fat to burn fat and thereby to perhaps help make fat people slim or primarily to counteract the development of obesity in the first place, this discovery is not only of significance in terms of our basic understanding of cell development.

“Our findings do not exclude the possibility of influencing young cells to develop in one direction or the other. It also seems as if there are dormant brown fat cells within the body that could be stimulated to develop and become active, fat-burning cells. Normally adult humans are seen as having rather little brown fat tissue, but new studies using new technologies are starting to challenge this view. We see new potential for understanding the mechanisms that make cells develop into different tissues. And new knowledge always paves the way for new possibilities,” says Barbara Cannon.

For further information:
Barbara Cannon, professor of physiology, Wenner-Gren Institute, phone: +46 (0)8-16 4120; cell phone: +46 (0)70-750 0198; e-mail: barbara.cannon@wgi.su.se
Jan Nedergaard, professor of physiology, Wenner-Gren Institute, phone: +46 (0)8-16 4128; cell phone: +46 (0)70-4948955; e-mail: jan@metabol.su.se
James A. Timmons, professor of exercise biology, Heriot Watt University, phone: +44 (0)131 451 4193; cell phone: +44 (0)7833992862; e-mail: J.Timmons@hw.ac.uk