Brown adipose tissue – a translational perspective
Brown adipose tissue (BAT) displays the unique capacity to generate heat through uncoupled oxidative phosphorylation that makes it a very attractive therapeutic target for cardiometabolic diseases. Here, we review BAT cellular metabolism, its regulation by the central nervous and endocrine systems and circulating metabolites, the plausible roles of this tissue in human thermoregulation, energy balance and cardiometabolic disorders, and the current knowledge on its pharmacological stimulation in humans. The current definition and measurement of BAT in human studies relies almost exclusively on BAT glucose uptake from positron emission tomography (PET) with 18F-fluorodeoxiglucose ( 18FDG), which can be dissociated from BAT thermogenic activity, as for example in insulin resistant states. The most important energy substrate for BAT thermogenesis is its intracellular fatty acid content mobilized from sympathetic stimulation of intracellular triglyceride (TG) lipolysis. This lipolytic BAT response is intertwined with that of white adipose and other metabolic tissues, and cannot be independently stimulated with the drugs tested thus far. BAT is an interesting and biologically plausible target that has yet to be fully and selectively activated to increase the body’s thermogenic response and shift energy balance. The field of human BAT research is in need of methods able to directly, specifically and reliably measure BAT thermogenic capacity while also tracking the related thermogenic responses in white adipose and other tissues. Until this is achieved, uncertainty will remain about the role played by this fascinating tissue in human cardiometabolic diseases.