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Clinical Studies and Practice

Impact of brown adipose tissue on body fatness and glucose metabolism in healthy humans



Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is involved in the regulation of whole-body energy expenditure and adiposity. Some clinical studies have reported an association between BAT and blood glucose in humans.


To examine the impact of BAT on glucose metabolism, independent of that of body fatness, age and sex in healthy adult humans.


Two hundred and sixty healthy volunteers (184 males and 76 females, 20–72 years old) underwent fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography and computed tomography after 2 h of cold exposure to assess maximal BAT activity. Blood parameters including glucose, HbA1c and low-density lipoprotein (LDL)/high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol were measured by conventional methods, and body fatness was estimated from body mass index (BMI), body fat mass and abdominal fat area. The impact of BAT on body fatness and blood parameters was determined by logistic regression with the use of univariate and multivariate models.


Cold-activated BAT was detected in 125 (48%) out of 260 subjects. When compared with subjects without detectable BAT, those with detectable BAT were younger and showed lower adiposity-related parameters such as the BMI, body fat mass and abdominal fat area. Although blood parameters were within the normal range in the two subject groups, HbA1c, total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol were significantly lower in the BAT-positive group. Blood glucose also tended to be lower in the BAT-positive group. Logistic regression demonstrated that BAT, in addition to age and sex, was independently associated with BMI, body fat mass, and abdominal visceral and subcutaneous fat areas. For blood parameters, multivariate analysis after adjustment for age, sex and body fatness revealed that BAT was a significantly independent determinant of glucose and HbA1c.


BAT, independent of age, sex and body fatness, has a significant impact on glucose metabolism in adult healthy humans.

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This study was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology of Japan (22590227), and a Special Research Grant from Tenshi College.

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Correspondence to M Saito.

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Matsushita, M., Yoneshiro, T., Aita, S. et al. Impact of brown adipose tissue on body fatness and glucose metabolism in healthy humans. Int J Obes 38, 812–817 (2014).

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  • brown adipose tissue
  • humans
  • body fatness
  • glucose metabolism

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