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Noninvasive identification and assessment of functional brown adipose tissue in rodents using hyperpolarized 13C imaging



The recent identification of functional depots of brown adipose tissue (BAT) in adult humans has potential implications for the treatment of obesity. In order to evaluate new therapies aimed at inducing the production of more BAT or activating BAT in humans, it will be important to develop noninvasive methods to assess the functional state of the tissue in vivo. In this study, we investigate the feasibility of using hyperpolarized 13C imaging to noninvasively identify functional, activated BAT in an in vivo rodent model, in less than 1 min, following an infusion of pre-polarized [1-13C] pyruvate.


Hyperpolarized 13C imaging was used to monitor BAT metabolic conversion of pre-polarized [1-13C] pyruvate in rats during baseline and norepinephrine (NE)-stimulated conditions.


Activated BAT, stimulated by NE injection, can be detected in rats by increased conversion of pre-polarized [1-13C] pyruvate into its downstream products 13C bicarbonate and [1-13C] lactate. The colocalization of the 13C signal to interscapular BAT was validated using hematoxylin–eosin histological staining.


The radiation-free nature and recent translation into the clinic of the hyperpolarized 13C-imaging test may potentially facilitate trials of therapeutics targeting BAT activation in humans.

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We gratefully acknowledge support from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) Smarter Imaging Program.

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Correspondence to A Z Lau.

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APC is an employee of GE Healthcare. CHC received research support from GE Healthcare in regard to the subject matter of this report.

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Supplementary Information accompanies this paper on International Journal of Obesity website

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Lau, A., Chen, A., Gu, Y. et al. Noninvasive identification and assessment of functional brown adipose tissue in rodents using hyperpolarized 13C imaging. Int J Obes 38, 126–131 (2014).

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  • brown adipose tissue
  • hyperpolarized 13C imaging
  • magnetic resonance
  • metabolism
  • pyruvate

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