The possibility of developing a pill to increase energy expenditure is explored by examining the metabolic processes involved. Such a pill should be targeted at organ systems involved in facultative thermogenesis. In rodents, these are brown adipose tissue (BAT) and skeletal muscle. Since BAT-mediated thermogenesis is not available in adult humans, emphasis here is on skeletal muscle. A hypothesis is presented based on three known facts: (1) plasticity of skeletal muscle, with interconversion of fiber types that differ in their fuel efficiency; (2) presence of thyroxine 5-deiodinase type 2 (TD2) in human skeletal muscle; (3) gradual increase in thermogenesis that occurs during rehabilitation after starvation, probably in muscle. A low capacity thermogenic system, muscle efficiency thermogenesis (MET), is proposed to occur as adipose stores refill during the transition from famine to feasting to obesity. This system involves increased activity of TD2 and a T3-induced increase in proportion of type II fibers, less efficient at rest and during activity. The protective effect of this system is probably overwhelmed by long-term eating in excess of energy needs. Better understanding of the complex remodeling of differentiated muscle fibers in the conversions proposed and of the regulation of TD2 activity in human skeletal muscle may reveal targets for increasing energy expenditure in humans. In addition, the possibility of exploiting the plasticity of the adipose organ, with conversion of white adipocytes in white adipose tissue to atypical brown adipocytes and increasing thermogenesis in them is considered as another potential target for increasing energy expenditure in humans.
Keywords: thermogenesis, shivering, skeletal muscle, brown adipose tissue, cold, obesity, adaptive thermogenesis, adrenoceptors, iodothyronine, atypical brown adipocytes in white adipose tissue
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