A new understanding of the interaction of two proteins and their role in fat burning and storage may one day have implications for the treatment of obesity and associated diseases such as diabetes and cancer, according to Weill Cornell Medicine investigators.
Their preclinical research, published May 17 in Nature Communications, explores how the proteins p62 and NBR1 influence thermogenesis, or fat burning to produce body heat, in brown adipose tissue (BAT), a form of fat.
“The increasing prevalence of obesity is alarming because of its association with glucose intolerance and type-2 diabetes,” said senior author Dr. Jorge Moscat, vice-chair for experimental pathology and the Homer T. Hirst III Professor of Oncology in Pathology in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. Additionally, recent epidemiological studies have pointed to an association between obesity and increased cancer risk in several organs, such as the liver and prostate, he said.
Furthermore, obese adults are at an increased risk of complications from COVID-19, said co-author Dr. Maria T. Diaz-Meco, Homer T. Hirst Professor of Oncology in Pathology and Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.
Once scientists discover the underlying mechanisms of fat accumulation and fat burning, they can potentially develop therapies for obesity. Specifically, researchers are trying to better understand BAT. Brown fat burns energy to keep people warm, while white fat stores energy. Prior research has found a correlation between more metabolically active BAT and a lower body mass index in adults.
“BAT is believed to help reduce adiposity, and the epidemic of obesity has greatly increased the interest in this metabolically active type of fat,” said Dr. Moscat, who is also associate director of shared resources in the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine.