Story at a glance

  • Researchers studying insulin resistance tested out the effects of a treatment on mice.
  • The mice were overweight and unexpectedly lost weight during the experiments.
  • Turns out, the mice were sweating out an energy rich substance known as sebum.

Trying to lose weight? One group of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine may have stumbled across one potential mechanism that may allow fat to be sweated out of the body. They show that this happened in their experiments in mice in a study published in the journal Science.

Thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) is a cytokine, a type of immune system protein. The research group has been studying the role of TSLP in overweight mice, and were interested in its potential role in insulin resistance in particular. What it discovered was something different.

TSLP did end up affecting their diabetes risk, but it also reversed their obesity. The key to how this happened may be with what the mice sweated out of their bodies.

“When I looked at the coats of the TSLP-treated mice, I noticed that they glistened in the light. I always knew exactly which mice had been treated, because they were so much shinier than the others,” principal investigator Taku Kambayashi, an associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, says in a press release.

Kambayashi was interested in the sheen of the secretions and wanted to test what was in it. The team ran several tests and found that it contained sebum-specific lipids. Sebum is a "calorically-dense substance" that is produced by highly specialized epithelial cells. In short, the oil being released through the skin helped the mice to lose weight.

“This was a completely unforeseen finding, but we've demonstrated that fat loss can be achieved by secreting calories from the skin in the form of energy-rich sebum,” says Kambayashi in the press release. “We believe that we are the first group to show a non-hormonal way to induce this process, highlighting an unexpected role for the body's immune system.”


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The team wanted to know if TSLP was related to oil secretion in humans and they found that it is positively correlated with sebaceous gland gene expression. This makes them think that it could be possible to ramp up sebum release in humans to be able to “sweat” out fat in a way that promotes weight loss.

Kambayashi says, “I don't think we naturally control our weight by regulating sebum production, but we may be able to highjack the process and increase sebum production to cause fat loss. This could lead to novel therapeutic interventions that reverse obesity and lipid disorders.”


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Published on Aug 09, 2021