Feasibility of using infrared thermal imaging to examine brown adipose tissue in infants aged 18 to 25 months

Ann Hum Biol. 2021 Aug;48(5):374-381. doi: 10.1080/03014460.2021.1985607. Epub 2021 Nov 15.


Background: Recent studies in adults indicate that cold-induced temperature change of supraclavicular skin corresponds with brown adipose tissue (BAT) thermogenesis.

Aim: This study examined the feasibility of using thermography to assess temperature changes in infants aged 18-25 months after mild cooling. Further, this study sought to evaluate whether cold exposure induces a thermal response suggestive of BAT activity underlying the supraclavicular region.

Subjects and methods: Changes in maximum skin temperature at the supraclavicular and interscapular regions were determined using thermal imaging following a mild 5-minute cooling condition (by removal of clothes in a climate-controlled room) in 67 Samoan infants. Temperature changes of the forehead and hand, known BAT-free regions, served as indicators of cooling efficacy.

Results: Infants with increased hand and forehead temperatures after cold exposure were excluded from analysis, reducing the effective sample size to 19 infants. On average, forehead (p < 0.001), hand (p < 0.001) and back (0.029) temperatures dropped significantly while supraclavicular temperatures remained constant. Participants with greater decreases in forehead temperature tended to exhibit greater supraclavicular thermogenesis (p = 0.084), suggesting potential BAT activity in this region.

Conclusions: While further work is necessary to develop a reliable cooling condition, this study provides proof-of-concept for non-invasive assessment of BAT activity in infants.

Keywords: Brown adipose tissue (BAT); infancy; infrared thermal imaging.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown* / diagnostic imaging
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Humans
  • Skin Temperature
  • Thermogenesis*
  • Thermography
  • Young Adult