Brown and Brite: The Fat Soldiers in the Anti-obesity Fight

Front Physiol. 2019 Jan 30:10:38. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00038. eCollection 2019.


Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is proposed to maintain thermal homeostasis through dissipation of chemical energy as heat by the uncoupling proteins (UCPs) present in their mitochondria. The recent demonstration of the presence of BAT in humans has invigorated research in this area. The research has provided many new insights into the biology and functioning of this tissue and the biological implications of its altered activities. Another finding of interest is browning of white adipose tissue (WAT) resulting in what is known as beige/brite cells, which have increased mitochondrial proteins and UCPs. In general, it has been observed that the activation of BAT is associated with various physiological improvements such as a reduction in blood glucose levels increased resting energy expenditure and reduced weight. Given the similar physiological functions of BAT and beige/ brite cells and the higher mass of WAT compared to BAT, it is likely that increasing the brite/beige cells in WATs may also lead to greater metabolic benefits. However, development of treatments targeting brown fat or WAT browning would require not only a substantial understanding of the biology of these tissues but also the effect of altering their activity levels on whole body metabolism and physiology. In this review, we present evidence from recent literature on the substrates utilized by BAT, regulation of BAT activity and browning by circulating molecules. We also present dietary and pharmacological activators of brown and beige/brite adipose tissue and the effect of physical exercise on BAT activity and browning.

Keywords: brown fat; dietary additive; exercise; hormones; metabolism.

Publication types

  • Review