Purpose of review: Human fat consists of white and brown adipose tissue (WAT and BAT). Though most fat is energy-storing WAT, the thermogenic capacity of even small amounts of BAT makes it an attractive therapeutic target for inducing weight loss through energy expenditure. This review evaluates the recent discoveries regarding the identification of functional BAT in adult humans and its potential as a therapy for obesity and diabetes.
Recent findings: Over the past year, several independent research teams used a combination of positron-emission tomography and computed tomography (PET/CT) imaging, immunohistochemistry, and gene and protein expression assays to prove conclusively that adult humans have functional BAT. This has occurred against a backdrop of basic studies defining the origins of BAT, new components of its transcriptional regulation, and the role of hormones in stimulation of BAT growth and differentiation.
Summary: Adult humans have functional BAT, a new target for antiobesity and antidiabetes therapies focusing on increasing energy expenditure. Future studies will refine the methodologies used to measure BAT mass and activity, expand our knowledge of critical-control points in BAT regulation, and focus on testing pharmacological agents that increase BAT thermogenesis and help achieve long-lasting weight loss and an improved metabolic profile.