Objective: The aim of this work was to study the reactivity to chronic cold stress of interscapular brown adipose tissue (IBAT) in old rats by stereological, immunohistochemical and ultrastructural methods.
Design: Five 2-year-old rats were cold-acclimated at 4 degrees C for 4 weeks and six rats were used as controls (20-23 degrees C).
Measurements: The following were measured: IBAT volume and weight; unilocular and multilocular brown adipocyte content; preadipocyte number; multilocular cell mitochondrial area; cristae length and density per mitochondrion, and immunoreactivity for the brown adipose tissue specific uncoupling protein (UCP).
Results: Following cold acclimation, IBAT increased significantly in weight, volume, relative mass and number of multilocular adipocytes (170%). The number of unilocular adipocytes did not vary significantly. Multilocular adipocytes of both cold-acclimated rats and controls expressed the uncoupling protein, but in the experimental group cristae length and density per mitochondrion were significantly higher. Multilocular adipocyte precursors were observed in only one cold-acclimated rat but not in controls.
Conclusion: The response of brown adipose tissue of old rats to chronic cold stimulus is similar to that observed in young and adult rats. Cold acclimation induces brown adipocyte recruitment: their number increases significantly, they test UCP-positive and their mitochondria are significantly more active than in controls. On the other hand, the number of unilocular adipocytes is not significantly affected, which may serve to improve the utilization of the heat produced by thermogenesis.