Researchers Got Mice Dependent on Nicotine to See If They Can Lose Fat

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Whenever smokers gave up cigarettes, they would notice weight gain. In a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute, mice were used to prove how nicotine ca affect fat cells. The paper was published on 21 May in the journal Nature Medicine.

In the human body, there are proteins that can moderate nicotine dependence in the brain. The same proteins could also regulate metabolism and act on some types of fat cells.

LSI research assistant professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the U-M Medical School, Jun Wu, is the senior author of the study.

He and other researchers have previously found that there is a new type of fat cell in both mice and humans. There are white fat cells which store energy as lipids, and then there are ‘beige’ fat cells. The beige fat cells are also called thermogenic cells. They can be activated to burn energy through thermogenesis.

Analyzing the beige fat, researchers discovered a molecule linked to thermogenesis called for cholinergic receptor nicotinic alpha 2 – CHRNA2. This receptor regulates nicotine dependence in the brain.

The study found that the protein CHRNA2 only functions in beige fat cells in humans or mice, and not in white fat cells, meaning that the protein only affects energy metabolism.

Researchers Don’t Recommend Smoking

Wu explains that their study does not suggest smoking is good for humans. However, it shows that when a person stops smoking, they gain weight. The study wanted to see how nicotine acts in regulating weight. It also proves that nicotine can suppress appetite.

In could be the first step in finding out how to combat weight gain in people that quit smoking.

“It is really cool to discover a selective pathway for beige fat, a new cell type — and even more exciting that this is conserved in humans. And the mice definitely are metabolically worse off, compared to the control group,” said Wu.

Metabolic Changes Affect ‘Beige Fat’

Wu also explains their results in mice and beige fat:

“Beige fat is very important in regulating whole-body metabolic health. Our results in mice show that if you lose even one aspect of this regulation — not the whole cell function, but just one part of its function — you will have a compromised response to metabolic challenges.”

The next step would be to find out how researchers can activate beige fat and avoid any side effects, concludes Wu:

“The more we can narrow down a precise pathway for activating beige fat, the more likely we are to find an effective therapy for metabolic health that does not carry harmful side effects.”

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Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.


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