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. 2004 Jan;84(1):277-359.
doi: 10.1152/physrev.00015.2003.

Brown Adipose Tissue: Function and Physiological Significance

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Brown Adipose Tissue: Function and Physiological Significance

Barbara Cannon et al. Physiol Rev. .
Free article


The function of brown adipose tissue is to transfer energy from food into heat; physiologically, both the heat produced and the resulting decrease in metabolic efficiency can be of significance. Both the acute activity of the tissue, i.e., the heat production, and the recruitment process in the tissue (that results in a higher thermogenic capacity) are under the control of norepinephrine released from sympathetic nerves. In thermoregulatory thermogenesis, brown adipose tissue is essential for classical nonshivering thermogenesis (this phenomenon does not exist in the absence of functional brown adipose tissue), as well as for the cold acclimation-recruited norepinephrine-induced thermogenesis. Heat production from brown adipose tissue is activated whenever the organism is in need of extra heat, e.g., postnatally, during entry into a febrile state, and during arousal from hibernation, and the rate of thermogenesis is centrally controlled via a pathway initiated in the hypothalamus. Feeding as such also results in activation of brown adipose tissue; a series of diets, apparently all characterized by being low in protein, result in a leptin-dependent recruitment of the tissue; this metaboloregulatory thermogenesis is also under hypothalamic control. When the tissue is active, high amounts of lipids and glucose are combusted in the tissue. The development of brown adipose tissue with its characteristic protein, uncoupling protein-1 (UCP1), was probably determinative for the evolutionary success of mammals, as its thermogenesis enhances neonatal survival and allows for active life even in cold surroundings.

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