Loading and Firing the Brown Adipocyte

Adipocyte. 2018 Jan 2;7(1):4-11. doi: 10.1080/21623945.2017.1405879. Epub 2017 Dec 22.


Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is specialized to both store and expend chemical energy making it an ideal therapeutic target for various metabolic diseases. Fatty acids derived from lipid droplets within brown adipocytes acting on mitochondrial uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) were long thought to be essential for non-shivering thermogenesis. Here, the roles of white adipose tissue and the liver in the provision of fuel to BAT as part of a coordinated response to temperature and dietary challenges are described. UCP1-independent modes of brown adipocyte heat production are also highlighted. A model that accommodates the findings obtained so far is further presented in which according to the conditions imposed on brown adipocytes, the relative contributions of circulating lipids and glucose for their normal function varies. Gaining deeper insight into the molecular processes which poise brown adipocytes to protect against whole-body thermal and energy imbalance represents a promising future area of metabolic research.

Keywords: Acylcarnitines; brown adipose tissue; fatty acids; glucose; lipolysis; liver; thermogenesis; uncoupling protein 1; white adipose tissue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes, Brown / metabolism*
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue, White / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Carnitine / analogs & derivatives
  • Carnitine / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Uncoupling Protein 1 / metabolism*


  • Fatty Acids
  • Uncoupling Protein 1
  • acylcarnitine
  • Glucose
  • Carnitine

Grant support

The author receives funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 1052/2 in Obesity Mechanisms (Project A08).