Brown adipose tissue in adult humans: a metabolic renaissance

Endocr Rev. 2013 Jun;34(3):413-38. doi: 10.1210/er.2012-1081. Epub 2013 Apr 2.


Brown adipose tissue (BAT) plays a key role in energy homeostasis and thermogenesis in animals, conferring protection against diet-induced obesity and hypothermia through the action of uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1). Recent metabolic imaging studies using positron emission tomography computerized tomography (PET-CT) scanning have serendipitously revealed significant depots of BAT in the cervical-supraclavicular regions, demonstrating persistence of BAT beyond infancy. Subsequent cold-stimulated PET-CT studies and direct histological examination of adipose tissues have demonstrated that BAT is highly prevalent in adult humans. BAT activity correlates positively with increment of energy expenditure during cold exposure and negatively with age, body mass index, and fasting glycemia, suggesting regulatory links between BAT, cold-induced thermogenesis, and energy metabolism. Human BAT tissue biopsies express UCP1 and harbor inducible precursors that differentiate into UCP1-expressing adipocytes in vitro. These recent discoveries represent a metabolic renaissance for human adipose biology, overturning previous belief that BAT had no relevance in adult humans. They also have implications for the understanding of the pathogenesis and treatment of obesity and its metabolic sequelae.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipogenesis
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / cytology
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism*
  • Adiposity
  • Adult
  • Aging*
  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Thermogenesis*
  • Uncoupling Protein 1


  • Ion Channels
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • UCP1 protein, human
  • Uncoupling Protein 1