U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Newly Identified Muscle Hormone May Have Potential for Reducing Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes

Recent research shows that in both mice and humans, exercise induces muscle to release a newly discovered hormone, irisin, and studies in mice show that irisin promotes energy expenditure (calorie burning), and reduces obesity and type 2 diabetes. The mammalian body contains two kinds of adipose (fat) tissue: white adipose tissue (WAT), which stores fat for energy, and brown adipose tissue (BAT), which “burns” fat to help maintain body heat without shivering—thereby increasing the body’s energy expenditure. Although human brown fat was initially thought to be present only in newborns, recent studies have confirmed its presence and function in adults. A new study has identified a hormone, called irisin, which is produced by muscle tissue and instructs WAT to take on BAT-like characteristics. When irisin was administered to adult mice or added to mouse WAT cells, genes normally found in BAT were turned on, whereas some WAT genes were turned off. The researchers found that in mice and in human study participants, exercise led to an elevation in circulating irisin levels. When the scientists modestly increased the amounts of circulating irisin in a mouse model of type 2 diabetes, this treatment reduced obesity and improved blood glucose control without apparent side effects. These results reveal a hormone that appears to drive many of the physiological benefits of exercise. If irisin in humans works as it does in mice, administration of this hormone could be a potential new therapeutic approach for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Boström P, Wu J, Jedrychowski MP, et al. A PGC1-α-dependent myokine that drives brown-fat-like development of white fat and thermogenesis. Nature 481: 463-468, 2012.