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Concept: Brown adipose tissue


Thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue (BAT) is fundamental to energy balance and is also relevant for humans. Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) regulate adipogenesis, and, here, we describe a role for BMP8B in the direct regulation of thermogenesis. BMP8B is induced by nutritional and thermogenic factors in mature BAT, increasing the response to noradrenaline through enhanced p38MAPK/CREB signaling and increased lipase activity. Bmp8b(-/-) mice exhibit impaired thermogenesis and reduced metabolic rate, causing weight gain despite hypophagia. BMP8B is also expressed in the hypothalamus, and Bmp8b(-/-) mice display altered neuropeptide levels and reduced phosphorylation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), indicating an anorexigenic state. Central BMP8B treatment increased sympathetic activation of BAT, dependent on the status of AMPK in key hypothalamic nuclei. Our results indicate that BMP8B is a thermogenic protein that regulates energy balance in partnership with hypothalamic AMPK. BMP8B may offer a mechanism to specifically increase energy dissipation by BAT.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Metabolism, Adenosine triphosphate, Enzyme, Leptin, Brown adipose tissue, Bone morphogenetic protein, Adiponectin


A disproportionate amount of body fat within the abdominal cavity, otherwise known as visceral obesity, best predicts the negative health outcomes associated with high levels body fat. Growing evidence suggests that repeated activation of the stress response can favor visceral fat deposition and that visceral obesity may induce low-grade, systemic inflammation which is etiologically linked to the pathogenesis of obesity related diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. While the obesity epidemic has fueled considerable interest in these obesity-related inflammatory diseases, surprisingly little research is currently focused on understanding the functions of inflammatory proteins in healthy, non-obese white adipose tissue (WAT) and their possible role in modulating stress-induced shifts in body fat distribution.

Concepts: Inflammation, Obesity, Insulin resistance, Adipose tissue, Weight loss, Dieting, Brown adipose tissue, Adiponectin


Human subcutaneous (SQ) white adipose tissue (WAT) can vary according to its anatomical location, with subsequent differences in its proteomic profile.

Concepts: Adipose tissue, Tissues, Brown adipose tissue, White adipose tissue


Brown adipose tissue (BAT) has attracted considerable research interest because of its therapeutic potential to treat obesity and associated metabolic diseases. Augmentation of brown fat mass and/or its function may represent an attractive strategy to enhance energy expenditure. Using high-throughput phenotypic screening to induce brown adipocyte reprogramming in committed myoblasts, we identified a retinoid X receptor (RXR) agonist, bexarotene (Bex), that efficiently converted myoblasts into brown adipocyte-like cells. Bex-treated mice exhibited enlarged BAT mass, enhanced BAT function, and a modest browning effect in subcutaneous white adipose tissue (WAT). Expression analysis showed that Bex initiated several “browning” pathways at an early stage during brown adipocyte reprogramming. Our findings suggest RXRs as new master regulators that control brown and beige fat development and activation, unlike the common adipogenic regulator PPARγ. Moreover, we demonstrated that selective RXR activation may potentially offer a therapeutic approach to manipulate brown/beige fat function in vivo.

Concepts: Protein, Metabolism, Fat, Adipose tissue, Tissues, Adipocyte, Brown adipose tissue, White adipose tissue


Brown adipose tissue (BAT) plays a central role in regulating energy homeostasis, and may provide novel strategies for the treatment of human obesity. BAT-mediated thermogenesis is regulated by mitochondrial uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) in classical brown and ectopic beige adipocytes, and is controlled by sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Previous work indicated that fish oil intake reduces fat accumulation and induces UCP1 expression in BAT; however, the detailed mechanism of this effect remains unclear. In this study, we investigated the effect of fish oil on energy expenditure and the SNS. Fish oil intake increased oxygen consumption and rectal temperature, with concomitant upregulation of UCP1 and the β3 adrenergic receptor (β3AR), two markers of beige adipocytes, in the interscapular BAT and inguinal white adipose tissue (WAT). Additionally, fish oil intake increased the elimination of urinary catecholamines and the noradrenaline (NA) turnover rate in interscapular BAT and inguinal WAT. Furthermore, the effects of fish oil on SNS-mediated energy expenditure were abolished in transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) knockout mice. In conclusion, fish oil intake can induce UCP1 expression in classical brown and beige adipocytes via the SNS, thereby attenuating fat accumulation and ameliorating lipid metabolism.

Concepts: Metabolism, Fat, Adipose tissue, Epinephrine, Norepinephrine, Brown adipose tissue, Thermogenesis, Uncoupling protein


In recent years, it has been shown that humans have active brown adipose tissue (BAT) depots, raising the question of whether activation and recruitment of BAT can be a target to counterbalance the current obesity pandemic. Here, we show that a 10-day cold acclimation protocol in humans increases BAT activity in parallel with an increase in nonshivering thermogenesis (NST). No sex differences in BAT presence and activity were found either before or after cold acclimation. Respiration measurements in permeabilized fibers and isolated mitochondria revealed no significant contribution of skeletal muscle mitochondrial uncoupling to the increased NST. Based on cell-specific markers and on uncoupling protein-1 (characteristic of both BAT and beige/brite cells), this study did not show “browning” of abdominal subcutaneous white adipose tissue upon cold acclimation. The observed physiological acclimation is in line with the subjective changes in temperature sensation; upon cold acclimation, the subjects judged the environment warmer, felt more comfortable in the cold, and reported less shivering. The combined results suggest that a variable indoor environment with frequent cold exposures might be an acceptable and economic manner to increase energy expenditure and may contribute to counteracting the current obesity epidemic.

Concepts: Obesity, Oxidative phosphorylation, Muscle, Adipose tissue, Tissues, Electron transport chain, Brown adipose tissue, White adipose tissue


Brown adipose tissue (BAT) burns fat to produce heat when the body is exposed to cold and plays a role in energy metabolism. Using fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography and computed tomography, we previously reported that BAT decreases with age and thereby accelerates age-related accumulation of body fat in humans. Thus, the recruitment of BAT may be effective for body fat reduction. In this study, we examined the effects of repeated stimulation by cold and capsinoids (nonpungent capsaicin analogs) in healthy human subjects with low BAT activity. Acute cold exposure at 19°C for 2 hours increased energy expenditure (EE). Cold-induced increments of EE (CIT) strongly correlated with BAT activity independently of age and fat-free mass. Daily 2-hour cold exposure at 17°C for 6 weeks resulted in a parallel increase in BAT activity and CIT and a concomitant decrease in body fat mass. Changes in BAT activity and body fat mass were negatively correlated. Similarly, daily ingestion of capsinoids for 6 weeks increased CIT. These results demonstrate that human BAT can be recruited even in individuals with decreased BAT activity, thereby contributing to body fat reduction.

Concepts: Metabolism, Obesity, Muscle, Fat, Adipose tissue, Body fat percentage, Classical mechanics, Brown adipose tissue


Rediscovery of cold-activated brown adipose tissue (BAT) in humans has boosted research interest in identifying BAT activators for metabolic benefits. Of particular interest are cytokines capable of fat browning. Irisin, derived from FNDC5, is an exercise-induced myokine that drives brown-fat-like thermogenesis in murine white fat. Here we explored whether cold exposure is an afferent signal for irisin secretion in humans and compared it with FGF21, a brown adipokine in rodents. Cold exposure increased circulating irisin and FGF21. We found an induction of irisin secretion proportional to shivering intensity, in magnitude similar to exercise-stimulated secretion. FNDC5 and/or FGF21 treatment upregulated human adipocyte brown fat gene/protein expression and thermogenesis in a depot-specific manner. These results suggest exercise-induced irisin secretion could have evolved from shivering-related muscle contraction, serving to augment brown fat thermogenesis in concert with FGF21. Irisin-mediated muscle-adipose crosstalk may represent a thermogenic, cold-activated endocrine axis that is exploitable in obesity therapeutics development.

Concepts: Muscle, Fat, Adipose tissue, Tissues, Adipocyte, Brown adipose tissue, White adipose tissue, Thermogenesis


Inhibitor of DNA binding 2 (ID2) is a helix-loop-helix transcriptional repressor rhythmically expressed in many adult tissues. Our earlier studies have demonstrated a role for ID2 in the input pathway, core clock function and output pathways of the mouse circadian system. We have also reported that Id2 null (Id2-/-) mice are lean with low gonadal white adipose tissue deposits and lower lipid content in the liver. These results coincided with altered or disrupted circadian expression profiles of liver genes including those involved in lipid metabolism. In the present phenotypic study we intended to decipher, on a sex-specific basis, the role of ID2 in glucose metabolism and in the circadian regulation of activity, important components of energy balance. We find that Id2-/- mice exhibited altered daily and circadian rhythms of feeding and locomotor activity; activity profiles extended further into the late night/dark phase of the 24-hr cycle, despite mice showing reduced total locomotor activity. Also, male Id2-/- mice consumed a greater amount of food relative to body mass, and displayed less weight gain. Id2-/- females had smaller adipocytes, suggesting sexual-dimorphic programing of adipogenesis. We observed increased glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in male Id2-/- mice, which was exacerbated in older animals. FDG-PET analysis revealed increased glucose uptake by skeletal muscle and brown adipose tissue of male Id2-/- mice, suggesting increased glucose metabolism and thermogenesis in these tissues. Reductions in intramuscular triacylglycerol and diacylglycerol were detected in male Id2-/- mice, highlighting its possible mechanistic role in enhanced insulin sensitivity in these mice. Our findings indicate a role for ID2 as a regulator of glucose and lipid metabolism, and in the circadian control of feeding/locomotor behavior; and contribute to the understanding of the development of obesity and diabetes, particularly in shift work personnel among whom incidence of such metabolic disorders is elevated.

Concepts: Metabolism, Insulin, Obesity, Muscle, Adipose tissue, Glycogen, Tissues, Brown adipose tissue


In rodents, brown adipose tissue (BAT) regulates cold- (CIT) and diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT). Whether BAT recruitment is reversible and how it impacts on energy metabolism has not been investigated in humans. We examined the effects of temperature acclimation on BAT, energy balance and substrate metabolism in a prospective crossover study of 4-month duration, consisting of 4 consecutive blocks of 1-month overnight temperature acclimation [24°C (month 1) → 19°C (month 2) → 24°C (month 3) → 27°C (month 4)] of five healthy men in a temperature-controlled research facility. Sequential monthly acclimation modulated BAT reversibly, boosting and suppressing its abundance and activity in mild cold and warm conditions (p<0.05), respectively, independent of seasonal fluctuations (p<0.01). BAT-acclimation did not alter CIT but was accompanied by DIT (p<0.05) and post-prandial insulin sensitivity enhancement (p<0.05), evident only after cold-acclimation. Circulating and adipose tissue, but not skeletal muscle, expression levels of leptin and adiponectin displayed reciprocal changes concordant with cold-acclimated insulin sensitization. These results suggest regulatory links between BAT thermal plasticity and glucose metabolism in humans, opening avenues to harnessing BAT for metabolic benefits.

Concepts: Metabolism, Insulin, Obesity, Muscle, Insulin resistance, Adipose tissue, Glycogen, Brown adipose tissue