In a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications, a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge has discovered a gene that triggers the body to store fat and, as a consequence, makes it harder for people to lose weight.
“Our discovery may help explain why overweight individuals find it incredibly hard to lose weight,” said the study’s co-author Dr. Andrew Whittle, a metabolic researcher at the University of Cambridge, in a press release. “Their stored fat is actively fighting against their efforts to burn it off at the molecular level.”
For the study, titled “Soluble LR11/SorLA represses thermogenesis in adipose tissue and correlates with BMI in humans,” the researchers studied mice lacking the gene responsible for producing the protein sLR11, a protein that suppresses the whole process of fat burning. Deprived of sLR11 circulating in the blood stream, the mice were found to be more resistant to weight gain by burning calories faster.
When the team of scientists examined this protein in humans, they discovered an association between increased levels of sLR11 in the blood and increased weight.
The team then examined patients with obesity who underwent bariatric surgery, and found that following surgery these patients showed decreased levels of the sLR11 protein. This finding led the scientists to consider that the sLR11 protein is produced by fat cells, and that sLR11 may be an important negative regulator of adipose tissue energy expenditure, which is dysregulated in obesity, potentially compromising metabolic responses to nutritional stimuli.
The SLR11 protein was meant to slow the body from burning too much fat after large meals or falls in temperature, because fat burning creates “thermogenesis,” the process of heat production in organisms.
Sciences believe that the role of the protein in the body is to produce a more efficient storing system in order to maintain energy and temperature for long periods. The researchers are now planning to study the thermogenesis process with drugs and manipulate it to burn fat at a faster rate. A drug that is able to control the metabolism would be of considerable importance in treating obesity.
“This research could stimulate the development of new drugs that either help reduce obesity by blocking the action of this protein or control weight loss by mimicking its action,” said Jeremy Pearson, the associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, in the release. “But an effective medicine to treat obesity, which safely manages weight loss is still some way off. In the meantime, people can find advice on healthy ways to lose weight and boost their heart health.”