Brown adipose tissue--a new role in humans?

Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2010 Jun;6(6):319-25. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2010.64. Epub 2010 Apr 13.


New targets for pharmacological interventions are of great importance to combat the epidemic of obesity. Brown adipose tissue could potentially represent one such target. Unlike white adipose tissue, brown adipose tissue has the ability to dissipate energy by producing heat rather than storing it as triglycerides. In small mammals, the presence of active brown adipose tissue is pivotal for the maintenance of body temperature and possibly to protect against the detrimental effects of surplus energy intake. Animal studies have shown that expansion and/or activation of brown adipose tissue counteracts diet-induced weight gain and related disorders such as type 2 diabetes mellitus. Several independent studies have now confirmed the presence of functional brown adipose tissue in adult humans, for whom this tissue is probably metabolically beneficial given its association with both low BMI and low total adipose tissue content. Over the past few years, knowledge of the transcriptional control and development of brown adipose tissue has increased substantially. Thus, several possible targets that may be useful for the expansion and/or activation of this tissue by pharmacological means have been identified. Whether or not brown adipose tissue will be useful in the battle against obesity remains to be seen. However, this possibility is certainly well worth exploring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / growth & development
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / physiology*
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / transplantation
  • Adrenergic Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Animals
  • Body Mass Index
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Obesity / drug therapy
  • Thermogenesis / physiology
  • Thiazolidinediones / therapeutic use
  • Tissue Engineering


  • Adrenergic Agonists
  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Thiazolidinediones