Emodin Improves Glucose and Lipid Metabolism Disorders in Obese Mice via Activating Brown Adipose Tissue and Inducing Browning of White Adipose Tissue

Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2021 May 10:12:618037. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2021.618037. eCollection 2021.


Background: Adipose tissue (e.g. white, brown and brite) plays a critical role in modulating energy metabolism. Activating brown adipose tissue (BAT) and inducing browning in white adipose tissue (WAT) has been proposed to be a potential molecular target for obesity treatment. Emodin is a natural anthraquinone derivative that exhibits variety of pharmacologic effects including lowering lipids and regulating glucose utilization. However, the underlying mechanism of action is still unclear. In the present study, we investigated whether emodin could alleviate obesity via promoting browning process in adipose tissue.

Methods: C57BL/6J mice were fed with high fat diet to induce obesity. Emodin at the doses of 40 and 80 mg/kg were orally given to obesity mice for consecutive 6 weeks. Parameters including fasting blood glucose, oral glucose tolerance, blood lipids, and the ratios of subcutaneous white adipose tissue (scWAT) or BAT mass to body weight, and morphology of adipose tissue were observed. Besides, the protein expression of uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) and prohibitin in BAT and scWAT was determined by immunohistochemistry method. Relative mRNA expression of Cd137, transmembrane protein 26 (Tmem26) and Tbx1 in scWAT was analyzed using qRT-PCR. And the protein expression of UCP1, CD36, fatty acid transporter 4 (FATP4), peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARα) and prohibitin of scWAT and BAT were analyzed using western blotting. In addition, ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography with electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry was utilized to detect the small lipid metabolites of scWAT and BAT.

Results: Emodin decreased the body weight and food intake in HFD-induced obesity mice, and it also improved the glucose tolerance and reduced the blood lipids. Emodin treatment induced beiging of WAT, and more multilocular lipid droplets were found in scWAT. Also, emodin significantly increased markers of beige adipocytes, e.g. Cd137, Tmem26 and Tbx1 mRNA in scWAT, and UCP1, CD36, FATP4, PPARα and prohibitin protein expression in scWAT and BAT. Furthermore, emodin perturbed the lipidomic profiles in scWAT and BAT of obese mice. Emodin increased total ceramides (Cers), lysophosphatidylcholines (LPCs), lyso-phosphatidylcholines oxygen (LPCs-O), and phosphatidylethanolamines oxygen (PEs-O) species concentration in scWAT. Specifically, emodin significantly up-regulated levels of Cer (34:1), LPC (18:2), LPC-(O-20:2), PC (O-40:7), PE (O-36:3), PE (O-38:6), PE (O-40:6), and sphingolipid (41:0) [SM (41:0)], and down-regulated PC (O-38:0), PE (O-40:4), PE (O-40:5) in scWAT of obesity mice. In terms of lipid matabolites of BAT, the emodin remarkably increased the total PCs levels, which was driven by significant increase of PC (30:0), PC (32:1), PC (32:2), PC (33:4) and PC (38:0) species. In addition, it also increased species of LPCs, e.g. LPC (20:0), LPC (20:1), LPC (22:0), LPC (22:1), LPC (24:0), and LPC (24:1). Especially, emodin treatment could reverse the ratio of PC/PE in HFD-induced obese mice.

Conclusions: These results indicated that emodin could ameliorate adiposity and improve metabolic disorders in obese mice. Also, emodin could promote browning in scWAT and activate the BAT activities. In addition, emodin treatment-induced changes to the scWAT and BAT lipidome were highly specific to certain molecular lipid species, indicating that changes in tissue lipid content reflects selective remodeling in scWAT and BAT of both glycerophospholipids and sphingolipids in response to emodin treatment.

Keywords: brown adipose tissue; browning of white adipose tissue; emodin; lipid metabolic signature; obesity; white adipose tissue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / drug effects*
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue, White / drug effects*
  • Adipose Tissue, White / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Emodin / pharmacology*
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Lipid Metabolism Disorders / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Obese
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Thermogenesis / drug effects


  • Emodin