Fat: It's an infrared issue

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  • Published: Oct 1, 2013
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: Infrared Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Fat: It's an infrared issue

Posing the adipose question

A near-infrared fluorescence imaging probe that binds to brown adipose vasculature and emits skin-penetrating fluorescence that can be picked up from the outside by a highly sensitive camera can be used to distinguish between

A near-infrared fluorescence imaging probe that binds to brown adipose vasculature and emits skin-penetrating fluorescence that can be picked up from the outside by a highly sensitive camera can be used to distinguish between "good" and "bad" adipose (fat) tissue.

Fat is a contentious issue in terms of what percentage of body mass makes its presence constitute obesity. High levels of body fat are clearly associated with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and cancer. What seems increasingly clear to researchers recently is that the two "types" of fat - the brown type of adipose tissue and the white form have different effects. Brown fat burns calories to keep us warm and metabolically active, while the white variety of fat can store excess calories around our visceral organs, on one's waistline or hips. Now, researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School have developed a new way to image brown fat tissue with a view to improving our understanding of fat's role in the body and potentially offering news ways to fight obesity.

Metabolically speaking

It has been technically difficult to reliably identify brown adipose tissue in adult humans. A fact that is stifling research into how this form of fat might be beneficial metabolically speaking and how it might be used to aid in weight loss and the fight against the so-called obesity epidemic, which is sweeping across the developed world. Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the team describes how their brown fat detection method works in an animal model.

"Brown adipose tissue, responsible for heat generation, has high importance in the context of metabolic diseases," explains senior author of the research paper Mikhail Kolonin, along with colleagues Ali Azhdarinia, Alexes Daquinag, Sukhen Ghosh and Chieh Tseng. "Brown fat is more common in children but has recently been discovered in adult humans. However, measurement of its body distribution has remained technically challenging. We report a peptide probe that zeroes in on brown fat and can be used for localization of this tissue in mice by whole body imaging." In work funded by the John S. Dunn Research Scholar Fund and a Jerold B. Katz Distinguished Professorship in Stem Cell Research at UTHealth, Kolonin suggests that success in their brown fat detection strategy proving effective in clinical trials might one day allow doctors to personalize treatments based on the ratio of brown fat to white fat for their patients. Moreover, it might be used to monitor a patient's progress on their weight loss program as brown fat stimulated through prospective therapies increases.

Targeted approach to fat

"This is the first targeted imaging approach for the detection of brown fat," Kolonin says. Kolonin worked with UTHealth medical imaging researcher Eva Sevick-Muraca to develop the NIR infrared fluorescence imaging probe that binds only to the vasculature in brown adipose tissue. The probe is a peptide developed by trial and error until an amino acid sequence was alighted upon that homes in selectively on brown fat when administered intravenously. Sevick-Muraca and her colleagues coupled this peptide to a dye molecule that had the right characteristics for whole body scanning.

The next step to be taken is to identify the molecular target of the tissue-homing probe," Kolonin told SpectroscopyNOW, "which would help better understand brown fat biology. Also, it would be important to determine if this receptor is expressed in human brown adipose vasculature." Ultimately, the team hopes to translate their imaging probes into clinical applications.

Related Links

Nature Commun 2013, online: "A peptide probe for targeted brown adipose tissue imaging"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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