Melanin production discovered in fat tissue

Nov 06, 2008

A two-year study conducted by researchers at George Mason University, INOVA Fairfax Hospital and the National Cancer Institute may open the door to new therapies for combating chronic diseases associated with obesity, a condition that affected more than 33 percent of American adults in 2005-06 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While analyzing samples taken from morbidly obese patients undergoing weight loss surgery, the researchers discovered that substantial quantities of melanin—a pigment that gives the skin, the hair and the iris of the eye their natural color—were being produced in the study participants' fat tissue.

Ancha Baranova, assistant professor in George Mason University's Department of Molecular and Microbiology and the paper's lead author, explains that melanin production has never before been identified in fat tissue. She believes that the antioxidant, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, could be the body's natural defense against obesity-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome and some cancers.

"Stockpiling extra calories is difficult even for specialized fat cells; having too much lipid molecules takes its toll on the fat cells, producing oxidative stress," says Baranova. "It's not unthinkable that these cells would adapt and produce melanin as a form of self-protection. As a side benefit, melanin may suppress inflammatory properties of the extra pounds of the fat."

Baranova notes that a larger study is needed in order to confirm the role that the body's production of this compound plays in fat tissue. However, the discovery suggests that melanin-based therapies may one day be used to reduce the incidence of chronic diseases among the morbidly obese.

"This opens an entirely new avenue for medical interventions because the process of biosynthesis of melanin is relatively easy to meddle with," says Baranova. "We hope that this study will spur the development of preventive medications aimed at curtailing devastating metabolic complications in obese and overweight populations."

Source: George Mason University

Explore further: Goat to be cloned to treat rare genetic disorder

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Shunning the sun may be harmful to your health

Dec 21, 2010

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with more than a million new cases diagnosed each year. But efforts to prevent it might be creating a health crisis of another sort.

Skin color clue to nicotine dependence

May 08, 2009

Higher concentrations of melanin -- the color pigment in skin and hair -- may be placing darker pigmented smokers at increased susceptibility to nicotine dependence and tobacco-related carcinogens than lighter skinned smokers, ...

Computer graphics spills from milk to medicine

Aug 07, 2007

A new UC San Diego computer graphics model capable of generating realistic milk images based on the fat and protein content will likely push the field of computer graphics into the realms of diagnostic medicine, ...

Recommended for you

Researchers transplant regenerated oesophagus

15 hours ago

Tissue engineering has been used to construct natural oesophagi, which in combination with bone marrow stem cells have been safely and effectively transplanted in rats. The study, published in Nature Communications, shows ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Low Vitamin D may not be a culprit in menopause symptoms

A new study from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) shows no significant connection between vitamin D levels and menopause symptoms. The study was published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopa ...

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...