Brown versus white adipose tissue: a mini-review

Gerontology. 2012;58(1):15-23. doi: 10.1159/000321319. Epub 2010 Dec 7.


Background: Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is abundant in small mammals and in newborns and helps them to survive cold temperatures. In adults, it had long been considered to be absent or at least of no relevance. Recent investigations, however, have fuelled interest in adult BAT.

Objective: We aimed at (1) summarizing structural and physiological characteristics of BAT versus white adipose tissue (WAT); (2) discussing the development of the two adipose tissue types; (3) reviewing the data available from human studies on BAT, and (4) discussing the impact of aging.

Methods: We summarize recent descriptions of BAT and WAT based on the original literature and reviews in the field, with emphasis on human BAT.

Results: WAT and BAT have essentially antagonistic functions: WAT stores excess energy as triglycerides and BAT is specialized in the dissipation of energy through the production of heat. Considerable amounts of BAT are present in a substantial proportion of adult humans and relatively high quantities of BAT are associated with lower body weight. With increasing age, BAT decreases and body weight increases.

Conclusions: Although the available cross-sectional data do not allow definite conclusions to be drawn concerning a causal relationship between loss of BAT and increasing body weight with advancing age or obesity-related metabolic disorders of older age, stimulation of BAT appears to be an attractive novel candidate target for the treatment of age-related obesity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / anatomy & histology
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / growth & development
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / physiology*
  • Adipose Tissue, White / anatomy & histology
  • Adipose Tissue, White / growth & development
  • Adipose Tissue, White / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Aging / genetics
  • Aging / pathology
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Thermogenesis / physiology
  • Triglycerides / metabolism


  • Triglycerides