For something we try so hard to lose, fat cells make a very pretty picture when stained with red dye. And a new study has found that the nutrients they consume as they mature changes in a significant way.

These particular fat cells, called adipocytes, were grown in the lab. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego, cultured pre-adipocytes — the precursors to fat cells — coaxing them to grow into fully-formed fat cells. As the cells matured, the stuff they consumed changed. Pre-adipocytes consumed glucose to make energy. Once they matured into fat cells, they started consuming glucose and branched-chain amino acids (BCAA).

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Everyone needs these amino acids, but people who have diabetes or people who are obese tend to have elevated levels of BCAA in their blood. The changing metabolism of fat cells might help explain that.

Stop the body breaking down BCAA and the body might stop making fat cells, the study also found. Unfortunately, the rest of the body needs BCAA, too. Anything that stopped us from using them would take out more than just our fat.

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Paper: Green, Courtney R. et al. (2015) “Branched-chain amino acid catabolism fuels adipocyte differentiation and lipogenesis,” Nature Chemical Biology.

Top Image: Metabolic Systems Biology lab, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering