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Brown adipose tissue (BAT) has the ability to oxidise glucose and lipids, and dissipate energy in the form of heat.1 Thus, it could provide one method to influence energy balance—and therefore, be a player in the fight against obesity and type 2 diabetes.
BAT is highly regulated by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to increase body temperature when mammals are exposed to cold. The heat production is mediated by uncoupling protein 1 (UCP-1), an inner-membrane mitochondrial protein exclusively expressed in BAT.1 Dogma was that BAT was only present in newborns. However, radiologists using the radiotracer 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose in positron emission tomography (PET)/computed tomography to detect metabolically active tumours, found competing areas in the supraclavicular, thoracic spine and neck regions with high rates of glucose uptake. The significance of BAT for human physiology was recognised in 2007.2
Recently, another type of cells called brown-in-white (BRITE) or beige cells, in white adipose tissue (WAT) have been found.3 BRITE cells possess a multilocular morphology, enriched mitochondria and express the brown adipocyte-specific UCP-1.
Importance of activating BAT
A potential clinical implication of activating BAT relates to the stimulation of resting energy expenditure and diet-induced thermogenesis. In humans, the thermogenic response to a meal is higher in those possessing BAT. It has been estimated that 50 g of activated BAT might translate to increase ∼5% of resting …