A subpopulation of lipogenic brown adipocytes drives thermogenic memory

Nat Metab. 2023 Oct;5(10):1691-1705. doi: 10.1038/s42255-023-00893-w. Epub 2023 Oct 2.


Sustained responses to transient environmental stimuli are important for survival. The mechanisms underlying long-term adaptations to temporary shifts in abiotic factors remain incompletely understood. Here, we find that transient cold exposure leads to sustained transcriptional and metabolic adaptations in brown adipose tissue, which improve thermogenic responses to secondary cold encounter. Primary thermogenic challenge triggers the delayed induction of a lipid biosynthesis programme even after cessation of the original stimulus, which protects from subsequent exposures. Single-nucleus RNA sequencing and spatial transcriptomics reveal that this response is driven by a lipogenic subpopulation of brown adipocytes localized along the perimeter of Ucp1hi adipocytes. This lipogenic programme is associated with the production of acylcarnitines, and supplementation of acylcarnitines is sufficient to recapitulate improved secondary cold responses. Overall, our data highlight the importance of heterogenous brown adipocyte populations for 'thermogenic memory', which may have therapeutic implications for leveraging short-term thermogenesis to counteract obesity.

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes, Brown* / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown* / metabolism
  • Thermogenesis / physiology