Can our brains instruct our bodies to burn more fat, and carnivorous mushrooms

Bulletins, Media bulletins

Today: Could our brain instruct our bodies to burn more fat? 

By shedding light on the action of two naturally-occurring hormones, Monash University scientists and their collaborators may have discovered a way to assist in the shedding of excess fat. Their work has been published today in the journal Cell. More below.

Monday: From the Harbour Bridge to the Eiffel Tour – 2015 is the Year of Light
The year of light festivities move from Sydney to Paris this week for the official launch of the International Year of Light. Optical physicist Ben Eggleton will be our man on the ground in Paris – reporting back via the optical fibres he helped create. And we’ve other commentators available to speak about all aspects of light back here in Australia. More below.

On 6 February at 6am AEDT in PLoS Biology  carnivorous mushrooms will reveal an intriguing secret that has implications for the human immune system. Embargoed release online at Call me for the password.

On 15 February in San Jose, California, we’re hosting our annual dinner for journalists attending the AAAS (Association for the Advancement of Science).

Kind regards,

Could our brain instruct our bodies to burn more fat?

Monash researchers discover how two hormones work together on the brain to stimulate the burning of body fat

By shedding light on the action of two naturally-occurring hormones, Monash University scientists and their collaborators may have discovered a way to assist in the shedding of excess fat.

The researchers have unravelled a molecular mechanism that depends on the combined action of two hormones—leptin, an appetite suppressant generated in fat cells, and insulin, produced in the pancreas in response to rising levels of glucose in the blood. Their paper, published in the journal Cell today, shows that the two hormones act in concert on a group of neurons in the brain to stimulate the burning of body fat via the nervous system.

Their findings may lead to more effective ways of losing weight and preventing obesity by promoting the conversion of white fat to brown fat.

“The combined action of these two hormones makes sense,” says the research group leader Prof Tony Tiganis, a National Health and Medical Research (NHMRC) Principal Research Fellow in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Monash University and a member of the Monash Obesity & Diabetes Institute (MODI).

“They give the brain a comprehensive picture of the fatness of the body. Because leptin is produced by fat cells, it measures the level of existing fat reserves—the more fat, the more leptin. And because glucose levels rise when we eat, insulin provides a measure of future fat reserves.”

Fat in adult humans is typically stored in adipocytes, specialised cells that comprise white fat. But around the neck and shoulders, there is a second form of fat made of brown adipocytes. Rather than storing fat, these cells can be induced to burn it off.

The Monash researchers have shown that the hormones leptin and insulin interact with proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons in the brain’s hypothalamus, causing them to send signals through the nervous system promoting the conversion of white fat into brown fat. This leads to burning off of excess fat.

They found that the process is regulated in these neurons by enzymes known as phosphatases, which inhibit the actions of each of the hormones. Using mice genetically modified to lack these inhibitory enzymes, the researchers were able to show that the browning and burning of fat increases when the levels of these inhibitors are reduced.

“This is a fundamental mechanism that normally serves to maintain body weight,” Tiganis says, “but in diet-induced obesity the process goes awry. And it may involve increasing levels of the two inhibitory enzymes.”

“Eventually, we think we may be able to help people lose weight by pharmacologically targeting these two enzymes,” says Tiganis. “Turning white fat into brown fat is a very exciting new approach to developing weight loss agents. But it is not an easy task, and any potential therapy is a long way off.”

In pursuing his work, Prof Tony Tiganis and the members of his laboratory were assisted by colleagues from Monash and institutions in the US and Canada.

The full paper is available at:

For interviews
Professor Tony Tiganis, Monash University,; Work phone: +61 3 9902 9332; Mobile: +61 417 396 512
Media contacts
Lucy Handford, +61 3 9903-4815, +61 427 647 396,
Niall Byrne, +61 417 131 977,

Celebrating the power of light to transform society

Monday 19 and Tuesday 20 January – experts available in Paris and Australia to talk about all things light during the Opening Ceremony of the UNESCO International Year of Light

The International Year of Light in Australia started with a bang at Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks – and next week the festivities move to Paris for the official launch.

On Monday 19 January the International Year of Light will be officially launched at the UNESCO Opening Ceremony in Paris. The year celebrates all things light:

  • From the Nobel Prize to your hardware store – the LED lighting revolution
  • The laser, an invention with no practical applications that now powers the internet, is printing jet engines, searching for space junk, and treating cancer
  • Solar lights empowering refugees, solar cells cheaper than coal.

The ceremony will be live streamed over the internet (made possible by light!), and Sydney physicist Ben Eggleton will be there representing Australia – tweeting from the event at @ProfBenEggleton

The two-day event will feature lectures from international delegates, including Nobel laureates Steven Chu and Serge Haroche, as well as Sune Svanberg, former Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

“We live in the Light Age – where light doesn’t ‘just’ guide, feed, and warm us. Light enabled technologies are transforming entertainment, medicine, homes, transport and manufacturing,” says Ken Baldwin, the chair of the International Year of Light committee in Australia.

In Australia there’ll be a whole host of exciting events, festivals and activities celebrating light, including Iridescence at the SA Museum, Enlighten in Canberra, the Light in Winter Festival in Melbourne and VIVID in Sydney.

And we’ll have experts available throughout the year – so if you want to do a light story, get in touch.

More about the Sydney NYE event:

More about the opening Ceremony in Paris:

More about the year at: and

Science in Public

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