Imaging human brown adipose tissue under room temperature conditions with (11)C-MRB, a selective norepinephrine transporter PET ligand

Metabolism. 2015 Jun;64(6):747-55. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2015.03.001. Epub 2015 Mar 5.


Introduction: Brown adipose tissue (BAT) plays a critical role in adaptive thermogenesis and is tightly regulated by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). However, current BAT imaging modalities require cold stimulation and are often unreliable to detect BAT in the basal state, at room temperature (RT). We have shown previously that BAT can be detected in rodents under both RT and cold conditions with (11)C-MRB ((S,S)-(11)C-O-methylreboxetine), a highly selective ligand for the norepinephrine transporter (NET). Here, we evaluate this novel approach for BAT detection in adult humans under RT conditions.

Methods: Ten healthy, Caucasian subjects (5 M: age 24.6±2.6, BMI 21.6±2.7kg/m(2); 5 F: age 25.4±2.1, BMI 22.1±1.0kg/m(2)) underwent (11)C-MRB PET-CT imaging for cervical/supraclavicular BAT under RT and cold-stimulated conditions (RPCM Cool vest; enthalpy 15°C) compared to (18)F-FDG PET-CT imaging. Uptake of (11)C-MRB, was quantified as the distribution volume ratio (DVR) using the occipital cortex as a low NET density reference region. Total body fat and lean body mass were assessed via bioelectrical impedance analysis.

Results: As expected, (18)F-FDG uptake in BAT was difficult to identify at RT but easily detected with cold stimulation (p=0.01). In contrast, BAT (11)C-MRB uptake (also normalized for muscle) was equally evident under both RT and cold conditions (BAT DVR: RT 1.0±0.3 vs. cold 1.1±0.3, p=0.31; BAT/muscle DVR: RT 2.3±0.7 vs. cold 2.5±0.5, p=0.61). Importantly, BAT DVR and BAT/muscle DVR of (11)C-MRB at RT correlated positively with core body temperature (r=0.76, p=0.05 and r=0.92, p=0.004, respectively), a relationship not observed with (18)F-FDG (p=0.63). Furthermore, there were gender differences in (11)C-MRB uptake in response to cold (p=0.03), which reflected significant differences in the change in (11)C-MRB as a function of both body composition and body temperature.

Conclusions: Unlike (18)F-FDG, the uptake of (11)C-MRB in BAT offers a unique opportunity to investigate the role of BAT in humans under basal, room temperature conditions.

Trial registration: NCT02038595.

Keywords: (S,S)-(11)C-O-methylreboxetine; Human brown adipose tissue; Norepinephrine transporter; Positron emission tomography (PET); Sympathetic nervous system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / diagnostic imaging*
  • Adult
  • Body Temperature
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Male
  • Morpholines*
  • Norepinephrine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods*
  • Radiopharmaceuticals*
  • Reboxetine
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Temperature
  • Young Adult


  • Morpholines
  • Norepinephrine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • O-methyl reboxetine
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Reboxetine

Associated data