Brown adipose tissue (BAT), a uniquely thermogenic tissue that plays an important role in metabolism and energy expenditure, has recently become a revived target in the fight against metabolic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Different from white adipose tissue (WAT), the brown adipocytes have distinctive features including multilocular lipid droplets, a large number of mitochondria, and a high expression of uncoupling protein-1 (UCP-1), as well as abundant capillarity. These histologic characteristics provide an opportunity to differentiate BAT from WAT using imaging modalities, such as PET/CT, SPECT/CT, MRI, NIRF and Ultrasound. However, most of the reported imaging methods were BAT activation dependent, and the imaging signals could be affected by many factors, including environmental temperatures and the states of the sympathetic nervous system. Accurate BAT mass detection methods that are independent of temperature and hormone levels have the capacity to track the development and changes of BAT throughout the lifetime of mammals, and such methods could be very useful for the investigation of potential BAT-related therapies. In this review, we focus on molecular imaging modalities that can detect and quantify BAT mass. In addition, their detection mechanism and limitations will be discussed as well.
Keywords: TSPO; activation-independent; brown adipose tissue; metabolic disorders; molecular imaging; rest state; tissue mass quantification.