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Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2017 Jan;13(1):26-35. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2016.136. Epub 2016 Sep 12.

Brown adipose tissue as a secretory organ.

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Departament de Bioquímica i Biomedicina Molecular, Institut de Biomedicina, Universitat de Barcelona, Avda Diagonal 643, 08028-Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
CIBER Fisiopatología de la Obesidad y Nutrición, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Avda Diagonal 643, 08028-Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.


Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is the main site of adaptive thermogenesis and experimental studies have associated BAT activity with protection against obesity and metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes mellitus and dyslipidaemia. Active BAT is present in adult humans and its activity is impaired in patients with obesity. The ability of BAT to protect against chronic metabolic disease has traditionally been attributed to its capacity to utilize glucose and lipids for thermogenesis. However, BAT might also have a secretory role, which could contribute to the systemic consequences of BAT activity. Several BAT-derived molecules that act in a paracrine or autocrine manner have been identified. Most of these factors promote hypertrophy and hyperplasia of BAT, vascularization, innervation and blood flow, processes that are all associated with BAT recruitment when thermogenic activity is enhanced. Additionally, BAT can release regulatory molecules that act on other tissues and organs. This secretory capacity of BAT is thought to be involved in the beneficial effects of BAT transplantation in rodents. Fibroblast growth factor 21, IL-6 and neuregulin 4 are among the first BAT-derived endocrine factors to be identified. In this Review, we discuss the current understanding of the regulatory molecules (the so-called brown adipokines or batokines) that are released by BAT that influence systemic metabolism and convey the beneficial metabolic effects of BAT activation. The identification of such adipokines might also direct drug discovery approaches for managing obesity and its associated chronic metabolic diseases.

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