Sulforaphane induces adipocyte browning and promotes glucose and lipid utilization

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2016 Oct;60(10):2185-2197. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201500915. Epub 2016 Jun 16.


Scope: Obesity is closely related to the imbalance of white adipose tissue storing excess calories, and brown adipose tissue dissipating energy to produce heat in mammals. Recent studies revealed that acquisition of brown characteristics by white adipocytes, termed "browning," may positively contribute to cellular bioenergetics and metabolism homeostasis. The goal was to investigate the putative effects of natural antioxidant sulforaphane (1-isothiocyanate-4-methyl-sulfonyl butane; SFN) on browning of white adipocytes.

Methods and results: 3T3-L1 mature white adipocytes were treated with SFN for 48 h, and then the mitochondrial content, function, and energy utilization were assessed. SFN was found to induce 3T3-L1 adipocytes browning based on the increased mitochondrial content and activity of respiratory chain enzymes, whereas the mechanism involved the upregulation of nuclear factor E2-related factor 2/sirtuin1/peroxisome proliferator activated receptor gamma coactivator 1 alpha signaling. SFN enhanced uncoupling protein 1 expression, a marker for brown adipocyte, leading to the decrease in cellular ATP. SFN also enhanced glucose uptake and oxidative utilization, lipolysis, and fatty acid oxidation in 3T3-L1 adipocytes.

Conclusion: SFN-induced browning of white adipocytes enhanced the utilization of cellular fuel, and application of SFN is a promising strategy to combat obesity and obesity-related metabolic disorder.

Keywords: Adipocyte browning; Glucose metabolism; Lipid metabolism; Mitochondria; Sulforaphane.

MeSH terms

  • 3T3-L1 Cells
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Adipocytes, Brown / drug effects
  • Adipocytes, Brown / metabolism
  • Adipocytes, White / drug effects*
  • Adipocytes, White / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Citrate (si)-Synthase / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Isothiocyanates / pharmacology*
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Lipolysis / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Sirtuin 1 / metabolism
  • Sulfoxides
  • Uncoupling Protein 1 / metabolism


  • Isothiocyanates
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha
  • Ppargc1a protein, mouse
  • Sulfoxides
  • Ucp1 protein, mouse
  • Uncoupling Protein 1
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Citrate (si)-Synthase
  • Sirt1 protein, mouse
  • Sirtuin 1
  • sulforaphane
  • Glucose