Separate and shared sympathetic outflow to white and brown fat coordinately regulates thermoregulation and beige adipocyte recruitment

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2017 Jan 1;312(1):R132-R145. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00344.2016. Epub 2016 Nov 23.


White adipose tissue (WAT) and brown adipose tissue (BAT) are innervated and regulated by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). It is not clear, however, whether there are shared or separate central SNS outflows to WAT and BAT that regulate their function. We injected two isogenic strains of pseudorabies virus, a retrograde transneuronal viral tract tracer, with unique fluorescent reporters into interscapular BAT (IBAT) and inguinal WAT (IWAT) of the same Siberian hamsters to define SNS pathways to both. To test the functional importance of SNS coordinated control of BAT and WAT, we exposed hamsters with denervated SNS nerves to IBAT to 4°C for 16-24 h and measured core and fat temperatures and norepinephrine turnover (NETO) and uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) expression in fat tissues. Overall, there were more SNS neurons innervating IBAT than IWAT across the neuroaxis. However, there was a greater percentage of singly labeled IWAT neurons in midbrain reticular nuclei than singly labeled IBAT neurons. The hindbrain had ~30-40% of doubly labeled neurons while the forebrain had ~25% suggesting shared SNS circuitry to BAT and WAT across the brain. The raphe nucleus, a key region in thermoregulation, had ~40% doubly labeled neurons. Hamsters with IBAT SNS denervation maintained core body temperature during acute cold challenge and had increased beige adipocyte formation in IWAT. They also had increased IWAT NETO, temperature, and UCP1 expression compared with intact hamsters. These data provide strong neuroanatomical and functional evidence of WAT and BAT SNS cross talk for thermoregulation and beige adipocyte formation.

Keywords: cold exposure; denervation; norepinephrine turnover; pseudorabies virus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / physiology*
  • Adipocytes, Beige / cytology
  • Adipocytes, Beige / physiology*
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / cytology
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / innervation
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / physiology*
  • Adipose Tissue, White / cytology
  • Adipose Tissue, White / innervation
  • Adipose Tissue, White / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Cricetinae
  • Feedback, Physiological / physiology
  • Male
  • Phodopus
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Thermotolerance / physiology