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Int J Obes (Lond). 2010 Oct;34 Suppl 1:S36-42. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2010.182.

Sympathetic and sensory innervation of brown adipose tissue.

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Department of Biology and Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, USA.


The innervation of brown adipose tissue (BAT) by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is incontrovertible and, with its activation, functions as the principal, if not exclusive, stimulator of BAT thermogenesis. The parasympathetic innervation of BAT only appears in two minor BAT depots, but not in the major interscapular BAT (IBAT) depot. BAT thermogenesis is triggered by the release of norepinephrine from its sympathetic nerve terminals, stimulating β3-adrenoceptors that turns on a cascade of intracellular events ending in activation of uncoupling protein-1 (UCP-1). BAT also has sensory innervation that may function to monitor BAT lipolysis, a response necessary for activation of UCP-1 by fatty acids, or perhaps responding in a feedback manner to BAT temperature changes. The central sympathetic outflow circuits ultimately terminating in BAT have been revealed by injecting the retrograde viral transneuronal tract tracer, pseudorabies virus, into the tissue; moreover, there is a high degree of colocalization of melanocortin 4-receptor mRNA on these neurons across the neural axis. The necessary and sufficient central BAT SNS outflow sites that are activated by various thermogenic stimuli are not precisely known. In a chronic decerebration procedure, IBAT UCP-1 gene expression can be triggered by fourth ventricular injections of melanotan II, the melanocortin 3/4 receptor agonist, suggesting that there is sufficient hindbrain neural circuitry to generate thermogenic responses with this stimulation. The recent recognition of BAT in normal adult humans suggests a potential target for stimulation of energy expenditure by BAT to help mitigate increased body fat storage.

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