Intrinsic circannual regulation of brown adipose tissue form and function in tune with hibernation

Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Feb;306(3):E284-99. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00431.2013. Epub 2013 Dec 10.


Winter hibernators repeatedly cycle between cold torpor and rewarming supported by nonshivering thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue (BAT). In contrast, summer animals are homeotherms, undergoing reproduction, growth, and fattening. This life history confers variability to BAT recruitment and activity. To address the components underlying prewinter enhancement and winter activation, we interrogated the BAT proteome in 13-lined ground squirrels among three summer and five winter states. We also examined mixed physiology in fall and spring individuals to test for ambient temperature and seasonal effects, as well as the timing of seasonal transitions. BAT form and function differ circannually in these animals, as evidenced by morphology and proteome dynamics. This intrinsic pattern distinguished homeothermic groups and early vs. late winter hibernators. Homeothermic variation derived from postemergence delay in growth and substrate biosynthesis. The heterothermic proteome varied less despite extreme winter physiological shifts and was optimized to exploit lipids by enhanced fatty acid binding, β-oxidation, and mitochondrial protein translocation. Surprisingly, ambient temperature did not affect the BAT proteome during transition seasons; rather, the pronounced summer-winter shift preceded environmental changes and phenotypic progression. During fall transition, differential regulation of two fatty acid binding proteins provides further evidence of recruitment and separates proteomic preparation from successful hibernation. Abundance of FABP4 correlates with torpor bout length throughout the year, clarifying its potential function in hibernation. Metabolically active BAT is a target for treating human obesity and metabolic disorders. Understanding the hibernator's extreme and seasonally distinct recruitment and activation control strategies offers untapped potential to identify novel, therapeutically relevant regulatory pathways.

Keywords: 14-3-3; Ictidomys tridecemlineatus; aP2; axillary brown fat.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / anatomy & histology*
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / cytology
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Size
  • Hibernation / physiology*
  • Organ Size
  • Sciuridae
  • Seasons*