Brown adipose tissue in humans is activated by elevated plasma catecholamines levels and is inversely related to central obesity

PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e21006. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021006. Epub 2011 Jun 20.


Background: Recent studies have shown that adult human possess active brown adipose tissue (BAT), which might be important in controlling obesity. It is known that ß-adrenoceptor-UCP1 system regulates BAT in rodent, but its influence in adult humans remains to be shown. The present study is to determine whether BAT activity can be independently stimulated by elevated catecholamines levels in adult human, and whether it is associated with their adiposity.

Methodology/principal findings: We studied 14 patients with pheochromocytoma and 14 normal subjects who had performed both ¹⁸F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography/computed tomography (¹⁸F-FDG PET/CT) and plasma total metanephrine (TMN) measurements during 2007-2010. The BAT detection rate and the mean BAT activity were significantly higher in patients with elevated TMN levels (Group A: 6/8 and 6.7±2.1 SUVmean· g/ml) than patients with normal TMN concentrations (Group B: 0/6 and 0.4±0.04 SUVmean· g/ml) and normal subjects (Group C: 0/14 and 0.4±0.03 SUVmean·g/ml). BAT activities were positively correlated with TMN levels (R = 0.83, p<0.0001) and were inversely related to body mass index (R = -0.47, p = 0.010), visceral fat areas (R = -0.39, p = 0.044), visceral/total fat areas (R = -0.52, p = 0.0043) and waist circumferences (R = -0.43, p = 0.019). Robust regression revealed that TMN (R = 0.81, p<0.0001) and waist circumferences (R = -0.009, p = 0.009) were the two independent predictors of BAT activities.

Conclusions/significance: Brown adipose tissue activity in adult human can be activated by elevated plasma TMN levels, such as in the case of patients with pheochromocytoma, and is negatively associated with central adiposity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / diagnostic imaging
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism*
  • Adult
  • Catecholamines / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity, Abdominal / blood*
  • Obesity, Abdominal / metabolism*
  • Obesity, Abdominal / physiopathology
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Radiography
  • Waist Circumference


  • Catecholamines