An imbalance between energy intake and expenditure leads to obesity. Adiposity associated with obesity progressively causes inflammation, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and cardiovascular disease. Excessive dietary intake of fat results in its accumulation and storage in the white adipose tissue (WAT), whereas energy expenditure by fat utilization and oxidation predominately occurs in the brown adipose tissue (BAT). Recently, the presence of a third type of fat, referred to as beige or brite (brown in white), has been recognized in certain kinds of WAT depots. It has been suggested that WAT can undergo the process of browning in response to stimuli that induce and enhance the expression of thermogenes characteristic of those typically associated with brown fat. The resultant beige or brite cells enhance energy expenditure by reducing lipids stored within adipose tissue. This has created significant excitement towards the development of a promising strategy to induce browning/beiging in WAT to combat the growing epidemic of obesity. This review systematically describes differential locations and functions of WAT and BAT, mechanisms of beiging of WAT and a concise analysis of drug molecules and natural products that activate the browning phenomenon in vitro and in vivo. This review also discusses potential approaches for targeting WAT with compounds for site-specific beiging induction. Overall, there are numerous mechanisms that govern browning of WAT. There are a variety of newly identified targets whereby potential molecules can promote beiging of WAT and thereby combat obesity.
Keywords: PR domain-containing protein (PRDM-16); beiging; brite; browning; peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ); sirtuin-1; white adipose tissue (WAT).