Stored fat fights against the body’s attempts to lose weight



The fatter we are, the more our body appears to produce a protein that inhibits our ability to burn fat, suggests new research published in the journal Nature Communications. The findings may have implications for the treatment of obesity and other metabolic diseases.


Our discovery may help explain why overweight individuals find it incredibly hard to lose weight. Their stored fat is actively fighting against their efforts to burn it off at the molecular level.
- Andrew Whittle

Most of the fat cells in the body act to store excess energy and release it when needed but some types of fat cells, known as brown adipocytes, function primarily for a process known as thermogenesis, which generates heat to keep us warm. However, an international team of researchers from the Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Institute of Metabolic Sciences at the University of Cambridge, UK, and Toho University, Japan, have shown that a protein found in the body, known as sLR11, acts to suppress this process.

Researchers investigated why mice that lacked the gene for the production of this protein were far more resistant to weight gain. All mice – and, in fact, humans – increase their metabolic rate slightly when switched from a lower calorie diet to a higher calorie diet, but mice lacking the gene responded with a much greater increase, meaning that they were able to burn calories faster.

Further examinations revealed that in these mice, genes normally associated with brown adipose tissue were more active in white adipose tissue (which normally stores fat for energy release). In line with this observation, the mice themselves were indeed more thermogenic and had increased energy expenditure, particularly following high fat diet feeding.

The researchers were able to show that sLR11 binds to specific receptors on fat cells – in the same way that a key fits into a lock – to inhibit their ability to activate thermogenesis. In effect, sLR11 acts as a signal to increase the efficiency of fat to store energy and prevents excessive energy loss through unrestricted thermogenesis.

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Image: Lose weight now
Credit: Alan Cleaver

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge


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