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Drug Activates Brown Fat

A team of investigators funded in part by the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases successfully activated brown adipose tissue and increased energy expenditure in 12 lean adult men using mirabegron, a drug that stimulates β3-adrenergic receptors. Brown adipose tissue (BAT), often called brown fat, consumes calories from fat and sugar to generate heat and is normally activated when a person is exposed to cold.

Studies of similar drugs in rodents had suggested that activation of BAT could treat obesity and type 2 diabetes by increasing the body’s energy expenditure. The current findings reinforce the plausibility of that approach for humans. More research on a diverse population, including women and people who are obese, is needed to determine if and how people can safely and effectively use β3-adrenergic receptor drugs for metabolic disease.

Investigators on the project were from Joslin Diabetes Center—including Dr. Aaron Cypess, who recently started a position within NIDDK’s intramural program—and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The research was funded in part by NIDDK grants DK081604 and DK036836 and the NIDDK Intramural Research Program.

drug activates brown fat
Image courtesy of Cypess et al/Cell Metabolism 2015
The researchers showed that the β3-adrenergic receptor agonist mirabegron stimulates brown fat activity and energy expenditure by burning additional calories.


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