Systemic control of brown fat thermogenesis: integration of peripheral and central signals

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2013 Oct;1302(1):35-41. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12277. Epub 2013 Sep 23.


Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is of great scientific interest as a potential target to treat obesity. The development of novel strategies to quantify brown fat thermogenesis in adult humans now enables minimally invasive assessment of novel pharmacotherapeutics. Input from the central nervous system via sympathetic efferents is widely regarded as the key controller of BAT-mediated thermogenesis in response to changes in body temperature or nutrient availability. More recently, however, it has become clear that locally secreted signals and endocrine factors originating from multiple organs can control the recruitment of brown adipocytes and, more importantly, induce thermogenesis in brown fat. Thus, they provide an attractive strategy to fine-tune brown fat thermogenesis independent of classical temperature sensing. Here, we summarize recent findings on bone morphogenetic protein signaling as an example of secreted factors in the regulation of brown adipocyte formation and systemic control of energy metabolism. We further highlight endocrine communication routes between the different types of brown adipocytes and other organs that contribute to regulation of thermogenesis. Thus, emerging evidence suggests that the classical mechanisms of central temperature sensing and sympathetic nervous system-driven thermogenesis are complemented by local and endocrine signals to determine systemic energy homeostasis.

Keywords: bone morphogenetic proteins; brown adipose tissue; systemic thermogenic capacity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / growth & development
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Blood Proteins / genetics
  • Blood Proteins / metabolism
  • Blood Proteins / physiology*
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / metabolism
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Peripheral Nervous System / metabolism
  • Peripheral Nervous System / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Thermogenesis* / genetics
  • Thermogenesis* / physiology


  • Blood Proteins
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins