NewsCell Biology

Uncoupling Proteins Provide New Clue to Obesity's Causes

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Science  29 May 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5368, pp. 1369-1370
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5368.1369

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Just over a year ago, researchers identified what appear to be the first human "uncoupling proteins" (UCPs). Originally discovered in the brown fat cells of hibernating animals, UCPs dissociate the reactions that break down food from those that produce the body's chemical energy, thereby raising resting metabolic rate. Although people don't have brown fat, the new work shows that other human tissues, including ordinary fat and muscle, make proteins very similar to the animal UCPs. There's no proof yet that these human UCP relatives work the same way, but if they do, variations in production of activity of the proteins could help explain why some people have lower metabolic rates--and therefore a greater tendency to gain weight--than others. In addition, if drugs could be found that safely boost UCP activity, they could be used to treat obesity.