Active Brown Adipose Tissue is Associated With a Healthier Metabolic Phenotype in Obesity

Diabetes. 2021 Oct 18:db210475. doi: 10.2337/db21-0475. Online ahead of print.


Obesity is associated with increasing cardiometabolic morbidity and mortality worldwide. Not everyone with obesity, however, develops metabolic complications. Brown adipose tissue (BAT) has been suggested as a promoter of leanness and metabolic health. To date, little is known about the prevalence and metabolic function of BAT in subjects with severe obesity, a population at high cardiometabolic risk. In this cross-sectional study, we included 40 individuals with WHO class II-III obesity (BMI ≥ 35 kg/m2). Employing a 150-minute personalized cooling protocol and 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography/computed tomography, cold-activated BAT was detectable in 14 (35%) of the participants. Cold-induced thermogenesis was significantly higher in participants with detectable BAT compared to those without. Notably, individuals with obesity and active BAT had 28.8% lower visceral fat mass despite slightly higher total fat mass compared to those without detectable BAT 18F-FDG uptake. This was accompanied by lower insulin resistance and systemic inflammation and improved NAFLD parameters, all adjusted for age, sex, and percent body fat. Contrary to previous assumptions, we show here that a significant fraction of individuals with severe obesity has active BAT. We found that decreased BAT 18F-FDG uptake was not associated with adiposity per se but with higher visceral fat mass. In summary, active BAT is linked to a healthier metabolic phenotype in obesity.