Previous studies have indicated that rodents are relatively resistant to diet-induced obesity and that this resistance may be mediated in part by the capacity for diet-induced thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue (BAT). To test this hypothesis, we fed UCP-DTA transgenic with toxigene-mediated ablation of BAT and their control littermates a "Western diet" [21% (wt/wt) fat] or normal mouse chow [6.5% (wt/wt) fat]. The diets were begun at weaning (19 days old). At the age of 12 weeks, transgenic mice receiving the Western diet were markedly obese. The increased body weight and total body lipid content were significantly greater in transgenic mice receiving the Western diet than were the additive individual effects of Western diet (in control mice) and decreased BAT (in chow-fed mice), suggesting a synergistic interaction between diminished BAT and diet. A synergistic effect of Western diet and BAT ablation was also observed for morbid metabolic complications, such as insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, and hyperlipidemia. These metabolic changes were accompanied by increased expression of tumor necrosis factor-alpha and decreased expression of GLUT4 and beta 3-adrenergic receptor messenger RNA levels in white adipose tissue of UCP-DTA transgenic mice receiving the Western diet compared to those in the other experimental groups. As previously described, transgenic mice with diminished brown fat are hyperphagic. Of note, the degree of hyperphagia in transgenics compared to controls was similar whether the animals were fed chow or a Western diet. Thus, the synergistic effect of Western diet on obesity in transgenic mice was not mediated by a further stimulation of food intake. Overall, this study demonstrates the existence of a synergistic interaction between decreased BAT and Western diet to cause marked obesity and its accompanying disorders, such as insulin resistance and hyperlipidemia, and gives further support for the view that an important function of BAT is protection from diet-induced obesity, diabetes, and insulin resistance.