Brown and beige adipose tissue regulate systemic metabolism through a metabolite interorgan signaling axis

Nat Commun. 2021 Mar 26;12(1):1905. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-22272-3.


Brown and beige adipose tissue are emerging as distinct endocrine organs. These tissues are functionally associated with skeletal muscle, adipose tissue metabolism and systemic energy expenditure, suggesting an interorgan signaling network. Using metabolomics, we identify 3-methyl-2-oxovaleric acid, 5-oxoproline, and β-hydroxyisobutyric acid as small molecule metabokines synthesized in browning adipocytes and secreted via monocarboxylate transporters. 3-methyl-2-oxovaleric acid, 5-oxoproline and β-hydroxyisobutyric acid induce a brown adipocyte-specific phenotype in white adipocytes and mitochondrial oxidative energy metabolism in skeletal myocytes both in vitro and in vivo. 3-methyl-2-oxovaleric acid and 5-oxoproline signal through cAMP-PKA-p38 MAPK and β-hydroxyisobutyric acid via mTOR. In humans, plasma and adipose tissue 3-methyl-2-oxovaleric acid, 5-oxoproline and β-hydroxyisobutyric acid concentrations correlate with markers of adipose browning and inversely associate with body mass index. These metabolites reduce adiposity, increase energy expenditure and improve glucose and insulin homeostasis in mouse models of obesity and diabetes. Our findings identify beige adipose-brown adipose-muscle physiological metabokine crosstalk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes, Brown / metabolism
  • Adipocytes, White / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue, Beige / cytology
  • Adipose Tissue, Beige / metabolism*
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / cytology
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Energy Metabolism / genetics*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Homeostasis / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Metabolomics / methods
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*