Research discovers beneficial role of omega-3 fatty acids on brown fat

Omega-3 fatty acids are able to stimulate the activation of brown and beige adipose tissues, a discovery that would promote the development of new therapies for obesity and other metabolism diseases, according to a research study published in the journal Nature Communications under the supervision of Professor Francesc Villarroya, from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biomedicine and the Biomedical Research Center Red-Fisiopatología de la Obesidad y Nutrición (CIBEROBN) of the Institute of Health Carlos III.

In the new study, carried out in laboratory animal models, the research team noticed that Omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 PUFAS) stimulate the activation of brown and beige adipose tissue through a specific receptor (GPR120), which enables the release of the hormone FGF21 (21 fibroblast growth factor). This hormone, built by the adipocyte, is a molecule that regulates lipid glucose and metabolism and therefore, it is an effective target for the action mechanism of Omega-3.

“This discovery has implications in the understanding of the positive effects of n-3 PUFAS on the control of metabolic diseases and other aspects regarding the treatment for obesity and type 2 diabetes”, says Professor Francesc Villarroya, member of the Institute of Biomedicine of the University of Barcelona (IBUB) and head of the Research Group in Genetics and Molecular Biology of Mitochondrial Proteins and Associated Diseases.

The study shows that Omega-3 fatty acids enable the adaptive thermogenesis in mammals’ brown adipose tissue, an essential mechanism for the adaptation of the organism to cold environments. With rodents, it has been proved that the brown adipose tissue is able to create warmth and protect from obesity through the activation of energy expenditure.

The main function of brown adipose tissue is to burn calories and to make physical warmth out of fat (thermogenesis). However, a recent study by this research team has defined that brown adipose tissue also acts as an endocrine organ and can secrete factors that activate fat and carbohydrates metabolism. The most known factors up to now are FGF21, neuregulin 4 and interleukin-6, among other molecules of biological interest.

According to Francesc Villarroya, “these molecules, released by the adipose tissue (brown adipocytes or batokines) have positive metabolic effects. For this reason, they could be used in new therapies for obesity and related metabolic diseases”.

Citation: “The lipid sensor GPR120 promotes brown fat activation and FGF21 release from adipocytes” Tania Quesada-López, Rubén Cereijo, Jean-Valery Turatsinze, Anna Planavila, Montserrat Cairó, Aleix Gavaldà-Navarro, Marion Peyrou, Ricardo Moure, Roser Iglesias, Marta Giralt, Decio L. Eizirik & Francesc Villarroya. Nature Communications 2016 vol: 7 pp: 13479
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms13479
Adapted from press release by Universitat de Barcelona