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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010 Nov;1212:E20-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05905.x.

Three years with adult human brown adipose tissue.

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  • 1The Wenner-Gren Institute, The Arrhenius Laboratories F3, Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.


The presence of active brown adipose tissue in adult humans has been recognized in general physiology only since 2007. The intervening three years established that the depots originally observed by (18)F-fluoro-deoxy-glucose positron emission tomography (FDG PET) scanning techniques really are brown adipose tissue depots because they are enriched for uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1). Reports of low apparent prevalence of brown adipose tissue based on retrospective studies of hospital records of FDG PET scans markedly underestimate true prevalence because such studies only reflect acute activity state; consequently, such retrospective studies cannot be conclusively analysed for factors influencing activity and amount of brown adipose tissue. Dedicated studies show that the true prevalence is 30-100%, depending on cohort. Warm temperature during the investigation-as well as adrenergic antagonists-inhibit tissue activity. There is probably no sexual dimorphism in the prevalence of brown adipose tissue. Outdoor temperature may affect the amount of brown adipose tissue, and the amount is negatively correlated with age and obesity. The presence of brown adipose tissue is associated with cold-induced nonshivering thermogenesis, and the tissue may be a major organ for glucose disposal. The decline in brown adipose tissue amount with increasing age may account for or aggravate middle-age obesity. Maintained activation of brown adipose tissue throughout life may thus protect against obesity and diabetes.

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