Brown fat cells, like those pictured here, are tiny thermogenesis centres in mammalian tissue. Converting white fat cells to brown ones may aid those trying to lose weight. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons User Lucasmcorso

Obesity rates continue to rise throughout North America and in many places across the globe. It is clear there is not a single cause of this, nor is there a single solution. Diets and genetic variants range between affected individuals, contributing to this issue. That said, there are a certain commonalities between individuals, such as adipose tissues, that can be mined using innovative lab software in order to posit potential therapeutic targets. Through better research into the different types of adipose tissues and their sources, researchers may be able to design better therapeutics for those struggling with obesity and other metabolic disorders.

The Fat of the Matter

In mammals, there are two main types of adipose tissue, white and brown. Brown adipose tissue (BAT), named for its color based on the greater prevalence of mitochondria, is where non-shivering heat generation occurs in mammals.1 These tissues are more prevalent in small mammals and newborns, as it helps them survive colder temperatures as compared to their relative size and ability to generate heat. White adipose tissue (WAT) becomes more prevalent as mammals age and has an inverse effect: storing energy as compared to burning it.2 Unlike many other cells in our body, fat cells don’t go away. Though an individual may reduce their mass or overall fat, the fat cells tend to stick around; deflated, but still in the body. This causes many challenges for those struggling to lose mass, or those whom have lost it but struggle to maintain a lower weight. Every time someone who has pre-existing fat cells consumes calories in excess of what they expend, there is a greater risk of those cells ballooning out.

Reconfiguring WAT into BAT seems like viable solution, from the outset. That said, although many of the underlying mechanisms are known, scientists do not fully comprehend how BAT functions on an organism wide scale. Conclusions regarding the functionality of BAT will be easier when using innovative lab software which allows researchers to collect all relevant data, observations and experimentation techniques in one place. This makes it far easier to search through previous observations to discover the ways in which BAT activity contributes to overall metabolism and energy balance.

Giving Fat the Cold Shoulder

Recently, researchers aimed to assess how BAT responds to cold, which should logically trigger an increase in BAT. They chose to perform transcriptomic profiling of cold-exposed mice to gain a better understanding of the response to thermogenic activation. Currently, RNA sequencing is regarded as the best tool for transcriptomic studies as it gives a better snapshot of what is translated in specific situations and is largely reproducible. That said, depending on the system being studied, RNA-seq yields a lot of data. Paper notebooks are not going to cut it in cases like this, and most lab software used for analysis is allocated to only one particular function, which, upon needing to process data through multiple programs, can lead to a number of complications and lost time.

The researchers conducting this study identified a novel pathway regulated by fatty acid receptor GPR120 that controls both BAT activity and the browning of WAT. Interestingly, researchers identified that the actions of omega-3 fatty acids, which activate GPR120 receptors, appear to increase BAT activity and WAT browning. In previous studies, omega-3 rich diets have been linked to prevention of obesity and decreasing hyperglycemia. This newly discovered pathway has many implications for clinical trials, perhaps longitudinal diet studies. Fortunately, there is innovative lab software that can help carry this work forward.

BIOVIA Electronic Laboratory Notebooks can assist researchers in reducing time spent looking for data by 50%, reduce repeat experiments by 25% and improve productivity by 25% while removing all non-value added activities. Looking forward from basic science observation in the aforementioned RNA-seq studies towards assessing diets in model organisms and humans are all studies that can be performed and analyzed with this software. Please contact us today to learn more about how our software options can support the efforts of your lab.

  1.  “The lipid sensor GPR120 promotes brown fat activation and FGF21 release from adipocytes,” November 17, 2016, http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms13479
  2. “Brown versus white adipose tissue: a mini-review,”  2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21135534