Two-point magnitude MRI for rapid mapping of brown adipose tissue and its application to the R6/2 mouse model of Huntington disease

PLoS One. 2014 Aug 21;9(8):e105556. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105556. eCollection 2014.


The recent discovery of active brown fat in human adults has led to renewed interest in the role of this key metabolic tissue. This is particularly true for neurodegenerative conditions like Huntington disease (HD), an adult-onset heritable disorder with a prominent energy deficit phenotype. Current methods for imaging brown adipose tissue (BAT) are in limited use because they are equipment-wise demanding and often prohibitively expensive. This prompted us to explore how a standard MRI set-up can be modified to visualize BAT in situ by taking advantage of its characteristic fat/water content ratio to differentiate it from surrounding white fat. We present a modified MRI protocol for use on an 11.7 T small animal MRI scanner to visualize and quantify BAT in wild-type and disease model laboratory mice. In this application study using the R6/2 transgenic mouse model of HD we demonstrate a significantly reduced BAT volume in HD mice vs. matched controls (n = 5 per group). This finding provides a plausible structural explanation for the previously described temperature phenotype of HD mice and underscores the significance of peripheral tissue pathology for the HD phenotype. On a more general level, the results demonstrate the feasibility of MR-based BAT imaging in rodents and open the path towards transferring this imaging approach to human patients. Future studies are needed to determine if this method can be used to track disease progression in HD and other disease entities associated with BAT abnormalities, including metabolic conditions such as obesity, cachexia, and diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Huntington Disease / diagnosis
  • Huntington Disease / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic

Grant support

Funding provided by European Huntington's Disease Network (EHDN) seed fund 414, The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.