Browning of white adipose cells by intermediate metabolites: an adaptive mechanism to alleviate redox pressure

Diabetes. 2014 Oct;63(10):3253-65. doi: 10.2337/db13-1885. Epub 2014 May 1.


The presence of brown adipose tissue (BAT) in human adults opens attractive perspectives to treat metabolic disorders. Indeed, BAT dissipates energy as heat via uncoupling protein (UCP)1. Brown adipocytes are located in specific deposits or can emerge among white fat through the so-called browning process. Although numerous inducers have been shown to drive this process, no study has investigated whether it could be controlled by specific metabolites. Here, we show that lactate, an important metabolic intermediate, induces browning of murine white adipose cells with expression of functional UCP1. Lactate-induced browning also occurs in human cells and in vivo. Lactate controls Ucp1 expression independently of hypoxia-inducible factor-1α and PPARα pathways but requires active PPARγ signaling. We demonstrate that the lactate effect on Ucp1 is mediated by intracellular redox modifications as a result of lactate transport through monocarboxylate transporters. Further, the ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate, another metabolite that impacts redox state, is also a strong browning inducer. Because this redox-dependent increase in Ucp1 expression promotes an oxidative phenotype with mitochondria, browning appears as an adaptive mechanism to alleviate redox pressure. Our findings open new perspectives for the control of adipose tissue browning and its physiological relevance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes, Brown / metabolism*
  • Adipocytes, White / metabolism*
  • Adipogenesis / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • PPAR gamma / metabolism
  • Stem Cells


  • PPAR gamma