Background: Intermittent hypoxia (IH), a model of sleep apnea, produces weight loss in animals. We hypothesized that changes in brown adipose tissue (BAT) function are involved in such phenomenon. We investigated the effect of IH, during 35 days, on body weight, brown adipose tissue wet weight (BATww) and total protein concentration (TPC) of BAT.
Methods: We exposed Balb/c mice to 35 days of IH (n = 12) or sham intermittent hypoxia (SIH; n = 12), alternating 30 seconds of progressive hypoxia to a nadir of 6%, followed by 30 seconds of normoxia. During 8 hours, the rodents underwent a total of 480 cycles of hypoxia/reoxygenation, equivalent to an apnea index of 60/hour. BAT was dissected and weighed while wet. Protein was measured using the Lowry protein assay.
Results: Body weight was significantly reduced in animals exposed to IH, at day 35, from 24.4 ± 3.3 to 20.2 ± 2.2 g (p = 0.0004), while in the SIH group it increased from 23.3 ± 3.81 to 24.1 ± 2.96 g (p = 0.23). BATww was also lower in IH than in SIH group (p = 0.00003). TPC of BAT, however, was similar in IH (204.4 ± 44.3 μg/100 μL) and SIH groups (213.2 ± 78.7 μg/100 μL; p = 0.74) and correlated neither with body weight nor with BATww. TPC appeared to be unaffected by exposure to IH also in multivariate analysis, adjusting for body weight and BATww. The correlation between body weight and BATww is significant (rho= 0.63) for the whole sample. When IH and SIH groups are tested separately, the correlations are no longer significant (rho = 0.48 and 0.05, respectively).
Conclusion: IH during 35 days in a mice model of sleep apnea causes weight loss, BATww reduction, and no change in TPC of BATww. The mechanisms of weight loss under IH demands further investigation.