Brown adipose tissue and thermogenesis

Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2014 Jul;19(1):25-37. doi: 10.1515/hmbci-2014-0022.


The growing understanding of adipose tissue as an important endocrine organ with multiple metabolic functions has directed the attention to the (patho)physiology of distinct fat depots. Brown adipose tissue (BAT), in contrast to bona fide white fat, can dissipate significant amounts of chemical energy through uncoupled respiration and heat production (thermogenesis). This process is mediated by the major thermogenic factor uncoupling protein-1 and can be activated by certain stimuli, such as cold exposure, adrenergic compounds or genetic alterations. White adipose tissue (WAT) depots, however, also possess the capacity to acquire brown fat characteristics in response to thermogenic stimuli. The induction of a BAT-like cellular and molecular program in WAT has recently been termed "browning" or "beiging". Promotion of BAT activity or the browning of WAT is associated with in vivo cold tolerance, increased energy expenditure, and protection against obesity and type 2 diabetes. These preclinical observations have gained additional significance with the recent discovery that active BAT is present in adult humans and can be detected by 18fluor-deoxy-glucose positron emission tomography coupled with computed tomography. As in rodents, human BAT can be activated by cold exposure and is associated with increased energy turnover and lower body fat mass. Despite the tremendous progress in brown fat research in recent years, pharmacological concepts to harness BAT function therapeutically are currently still lacking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / physiology
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / immunology
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism*
  • Adipose Tissue, White / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue, White / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Thermogenesis / physiology*
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Uncoupling Protein 1


  • Ion Channels
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • UCP1 protein, human
  • Uncoupling Protein 1