Evidence from rodents established an important role of brown adipose tissue (BAT) in energy expenditure. Moreover, to sustain thermogenesis, BAT has been shown to be a powerful sink for draining and oxidation of glucose and triglycerides from blood. The potential of BAT activity in protection against obesity and metabolic syndrome is recognized. Recently, an unexpected presence and activity of BAT has been found in adult humans. Here we review the most recent research in this field and, specifically, how new findings apply to humans. Moreover, we seek to clarify the underlying biological processes occurring beyond the burst of new nomenclature in the field. The cell type responsible for thermogenesis, the brown adipocyte, arises from complex developmental processes. In addition to 'classical' brown adipocytes, present in developmentally programmed BAT depots, there are brown adipocytes, named 'brite' (from 'brown-in-white') or 'beige', which appear in response to thermogenic stimuli in white fat due to the so-called 'browning' process. Beige/brite cells appear to be important components of BAT depots in adult humans. In addition to the known control of BAT activity by the sympathetic nervous system, metabolic and hormonal signals originating in muscle or liver (e.g. irisin, FGF21) are recognized as activators of BAT and beige/brite adipocytes.
Keywords: Antiobesity agents; brown adipose tissue; metabolic syndrome X; obesity; white adipose tissue.