Analysis and measurement of the sympathetic and sensory innervation of white and brown adipose tissue

Methods Enzymol. 2014;537:199-225. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-411619-1.00011-2.


Here, we provide a detailed account of how to denervate white and brown adipose tissue (WAT and BAT) and how to measure sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity to these and other tissues neurochemically. The brain controls many of the functions of WAT and BAT via the SNS innervation of the tissues, especially lipolysis and thermogenesis, respectively. There is no clearly demonstrated parasympathetic innervation of WAT or the major interscapular BAT (IBAT) depot. WAT and BAT communicate with the brain neurally via sensory nerves. We detail the surgical denervation (eliminating both innervations) of several WAT pads and IBAT. We also detail more selective chemical denervation of the SNS innervation via intra-WAT/IBAT 6-hydroxy-dopamine (a catecholaminergic neurotoxin) injections and selective chemical sensory denervation via intra-WAT/IBAT capsaicin (a sensory nerve neurotoxin) injections. Verifications of the denervations are provided (HPLC-EC detection for SNS, ELIA for calcitonin gene-related peptide (proven sensory nerve marker)). Finally, assessment of the SNS drive to WAT/BAT or other tissues is described using the alpha-methyl-para-tyrosine method combined with HPLC-EC, a direct neurochemical measure of SNS activity. These methods have proven useful for us and for other investigators interested in innervation of adipose tissues. The chemical denervation approach has been extended to nonadipose tissues as well.

Keywords: Adipose tissue; CGRP; Denervation; HPLC-EC; NETO; Nerves; Norepinephrine; Sensory; Sympathetic.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / innervation*
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / surgery
  • Adipose Tissue, White / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue, White / innervation*
  • Adipose Tissue, White / surgery
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / surgery
  • Capsaicin / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Norepinephrine / administration & dosage
  • Oxidopamine / administration & dosage
  • Sympathetic Nervous System*
  • Thermogenesis / drug effects


  • Oxidopamine
  • Capsaicin
  • Norepinephrine