Bi-directional interconversion of brite and white adipocytes

Nat Cell Biol. 2013 Jun;15(6):659-67. doi: 10.1038/ncb2740. Epub 2013 Apr 28.


Brown adipose tissue helps to maintain body temperature in hibernators, rodents and neonatal mammals by converting lipids and glucose into heat, thereby increasing energy expenditure. In addition to classical brown adipocytes, adult rodents-like adult humans-harbour brown-like adipocytes in the predominantly white adipose tissue. The formation of these brite (brown-in-white) adipocytes is a physiological response to chronic cold and their cellular origin is under debate. We show here that cold-induced formation of brite adipocytes in mice is reversed within 5 weeks of warm adaptation, but the brite adipocytes formed by cold stimulation are not eliminated. Genetic tracing and transcriptional characterization of isolated adipocytes demonstrates that they are converted into cells with the morphology and gene expression pattern of white adipocytes. Moreover, these white-typical adipocytes can convert into brite adipocytes on additional cold stimulation. Shifting the balance of this interconversion from the white towards the brite phenotype might provide a new means of counteracting obesity by increasing energy expenditure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes, Brown / cytology
  • Adipocytes, Brown / physiology*
  • Adipocytes, White / cytology*
  • Adipocytes, White / physiology*
  • Adipose Tissue / cytology
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cold Temperature
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Hot Temperature
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism
  • Obesity
  • Phenotype
  • T-Box Domain Proteins / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Uncoupling Protein 1


  • Ion Channels
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • T-Box Domain Proteins
  • Tbx1 protein, mouse
  • Uncoupling Protein 1
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins