Adipose tissues and thyroid hormones

Front Physiol. 2014 Dec 11;5:479. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2014.00479. eCollection 2014.


The maintenance of energy balance is regulated by complex homeostatic mechanisms, including those emanating from adipose tissue. The main function of the adipose tissue is to store the excess of metabolic energy in the form of fat. The energy stored as fat can be mobilized during periods of energy deprivation (hunger, fasting, diseases). The adipose tissue has also a homeostatic role regulating energy balance and functioning as endocrine organ that secretes substances that control body homeostasis. Two adipose tissues have been identified: white and brown adipose tissues (WAT and BAT) with different phenotype, function and regulation. WAT stores energy, while BAT dissipates energy as heat. Brown and white adipocytes have different ontogenetic origin and lineage and specific markers of WAT and BAT have been identified. "Brite" or beige adipose tissue has been identified in WAT with some properties of BAT. Thyroid hormones exert pleiotropic actions, regulating the differentiation process in many tissues including the adipose tissue. Adipogenesis gives raise to mature adipocytes and is regulated by several transcription factors (c/EBPs, PPARs) that coordinately activate specific genes, resulting in the adipocyte phenotype. T3 regulates several genes involved in lipid mobilization and storage and in thermogenesis. Both WAT and BAT are targets of thyroid hormones, which regulate genes crucial for their proper function: lipogenesis, lipolysis, thermogenesis, mitochondrial function, transcription factors, the availability of nutrients. T3 acts directly through specific TREs in the gene promoters, regulating transcription factors. The deiodinases D3, D2, and D1 regulate the availability of T3. D3 is activated during proliferation, while D2 is linked to the adipocyte differentiation program, providing T3 needed for lipogenesis and thermogenesis. We examine the differences between BAT, WAT and brite/beige adipocytes and the process that lead to activation of UCP1 in WAT and the presence of BAT in humans and its relevance.

Keywords: BAT; adipogenesis; brite adipocytes; deiodinases; lipogenesis; lipolysis; thermogenesis; “browning”.

Publication types

  • Review