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Biochimie. 2017 Mar;134:127-137. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2017.01.007. Epub 2017 Jan 18.

UCP1 in adipose tissues: two steps to full browning.

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Department of Molecular Biosciences, The Wenner-Gren Institute, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.
Department of Molecular Biosciences, The Wenner-Gren Institute, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden. Electronic address:


The possibility that brown adipose tissue thermogenesis can be recruited in order to combat the development of obesity has led to a high interest in the identification of "browning agents", i.e. agents that increase the amount and activity of UCP1 in brown and brite/beige adipose tissues. However, functional analysis of the browning process yields confusingly different results when the analysis is performed in one of two alternative steps. Thus, in one of the steps, using cold acclimation as a potent model browning agent, we find that if the browning process is followed in mice initially housed at 21 °C (the most common procedure), there is only weak molecular evidence for increases in UCP1 gene expression or UCP1 protein abundance in classical brown adipose tissue; however, in brite/beige adipose depots, there are large increases, apparently associating functional browning with events only in the brite/beige tissues. Contrastingly, in another step, if the process is followed starting with mice initially housed at 30 °C (thermoneutrality for mice, thus similar to normal human conditions), large increases in UCP1 gene expression and UCP1 protein abundance are observed in the classical brown adipose tissue depots; there is then practically no observable UCP1 gene expression in brite/beige tissues. This apparent conundrum can be resolved when it is realized that the classical brown adipose tissue at 21 °C is already essentially fully differentiated and thus expands extensively through proliferation upon further browning induction, rather than by further enhancing cellular differentiation. When the limiting factor for thermogenesis, i.e. the total amount of UCP1 protein per depot, is analyzed, classical brown adipose tissue is by far the predominant site for the browning process, irrespective of which of the two steps is analyzed. There are to date no published data demonstrating that alternative browning agents would selectively promote brite/beige tissues versus classical brown tissue to a higher degree than does cold acclimation. Thus, to restrict investigations to examine adipose tissue depots where only a limited part of the adaptation process occurs (i.e. the brite/beige tissues) and to use initial conditions different from the thermoneutrality normally experienced by adult humans may seriously hamper the identification of therapeutically valid browning agents. The data presented here have therefore important implications for the analysis of the potential of browning agents and the nature of human brown adipose tissue.


Beige; Brite; Browning; Cold acclimation; UCP1

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