UCSF Researcher Identifies Key to Energy-Burning Brown Fat

Shingo Kajimura, PhD. Photo by Jeffrey Norris/UCSF

Current anti-obesity treatments include strategies to prevent food energy from being absorbed, such as orlistat, which prevents fat absorption. In a quest for new ways to fight obesity, Shingo Kajimura, PhD, of the UCSF Diabetes Center focuses on getting the body to burn more calories through energy metabolism by brown fat cells. He works with mouse models in an effort to find ways to accomplish this. Human adults have about 50 grams of brown fat, enough to burn 10 pounds worth of energy each year, Kajimura says.

Photo by Shingo Kajimura

In a new paper in the Nov. 6, 2013 issue of Nature, Kajimura reports the discovery of a key protein that promotes brown fat production. In rare cases, mutations in the gene for the protein, called EHMT1 are associated with obesity. Knocking out the protein in mice caused them to fail to produce brown fat, and to become obese and insulin resistant.

The NIH director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, was so impressed that he wrote about Kajimura’s study in his blog.