Advancing obesity and diabetes therapy with brown fat cells

Posted: 27 September 2023 | | No comments yet

Researchers discover the intricate cellular signalling cues that orchestrate the formation of brown adipocytes in mice.


Brown adipocytes, specialised cells capable of harnessing energy to generate heat, have emerged as promising tools in the battle against obesity and type 2 diabetes. However, their therapeutic potential was significantly constrained due to the limited understanding of their development process.

Published in Development Cell a dedicated team of researchers at the Brigham Women’s Hospital embarked on a mission to discover the intricate cellular signalling cues that orchestrate the formation of brown adipocytes in mice. Armed with this newfound knowledge, they endeavoured to translate these signals into a robust protocol that would enable the efficient production of human brown adipocytes in vitro.

To accomplish this, the researchers employed cutting-edge machine learning tools in conjunction with single-cell RNA sequencing techniques. This sophisticated analysis enabled them to pinpoint the precise cellular signals associated with the emergence of various tissue types in embryonic mice. Within this wealth of data, they identified a pivotal developmental stage characterised by heightened expression of a transcription factor known as GATA6. Remarkably, the research team also confirmed a similar pattern of expression in human BAT (brown adipose tissue) precursors.

Building on these critical findings, the researchers successfully replicated the sequence of signals in human pluripotent stem cells. This remarkable feat transformed these stem cells into fully functional brown adipocytes. What’s more, when these engineered cells were exposed to stimuli that mimicked natural physiological conditions within the body, they demonstrated their functionality by responding with an increase in metabolism, leading to the production of heat.

This groundbreaking study not only sheds light on the intricate process of brown adipocyte development but also provides a reliable and reproducible model for the in vitro production of human brown fat cells. With these achievements, the door to innovative therapies for obesity and type 2 diabetes now stands wide open, offering hope for a healthier future.

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