Exciting research into Brown adipose tissue (BAT) -- brown fat, which is found in abundance in hibernating animals and newborn babies -- could lead to new ways of preventing obesity.
Studies have already shown that BAT activity in adults is reduced with obesity. Therefore, promoting BAT function could prevent or reduce obesity in some people.
New research, led by Michael Symonds, Professor of Developmental Physiology in the School of Clincal Sciences at The University of Nottingham, has shown -- for the first time -- that daylight is a major factor in controlling BAT activity.
Professor Symonds said: "Our research has suggested a previously unknown mechanism for controlling BAT function in humans and this could potentially lead to new treatments for the prevention or reversal of obesity."
Winter was traditionally a time of the year that was accompanied with increased thermal demands and thus energy expenditure, but the body's requirements for BAT has been reduced in recent times by central heating plus global warming. BAT is capable of producing up to 300 times more heat per unit mass compared with all other tissues.
The research, published in the journal Diabetes, studied well over 3500 patients. The presence of BAT was documented and correlated with monthly changes in daylight and ambient temperature. Their results showed that BAT was more common in females and that changes in BAT activity were more closely associated with day light than ambient temperature.
BAT is activated by the cold and is unique in being able to produce very large amounts of heat -- but little is known about the main factors that regulate the amount of BAT in our bodies. Professor Symonds said: "Our research demonstrates a very strong seasonal variation in the presence of BAT. The study focused on the impact of daylight and ambient temperature as these are two key factors in determining BAT function in small mammals. Our exciting new findings may help us find novel interventions aimed at promoting BAT activity particularly in the winter."
Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent'. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.
The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation -- School of Pharmacy), and was named 'Entrepreneurial University of the Year' at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.
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