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Evidence for two types of brown adipose tissue in humans


The previously observed supraclavicular depot of brown adipose tissue (BAT) in adult humans was commonly believed to be the equivalent of the interscapular thermogenic organ of small mammals. This view was recently disputed1 on the basis of the demonstration that this depot consists of beige (also called brite) brown adipocytes, a newly identified type of brown adipocyte that is distinct from the classical brown adipocytes that make up the interscapular thermogenic organs of other mammals. A combination of high-resolution imaging techniques and histological and biochemical analyses showed evidence for an anatomically distinguishable interscapular BAT (iBAT) depot in human infants that consists of classical brown adipocytes, a cell type that has so far not been shown to exist in humans. On the basis of these findings, we conclude that infants, similarly to rodents, have the bona fide iBAT thermogenic organ consisting of classical brown adipocytes that is essential for the survival of small mammals in a cold environment.

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Figure 1: Three-dimensional reconstruction of iBAT in a human infant.
Figure 2: BAT depots identified by MRI represent bona fide BAT containing classical brown adipocytes.
Figure 3: Gene expression profiling of human BAT depots.


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This work was supported by grants to S.E. from the Swedish Research Council (grant numbers 2009-2590 and 2010-3281), The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, Sahlgrenska's University Hospital (LUA-ALF), EU grants (HEALTH-F2-2011-278373; DIABAT), The IngaBritt and Arne Lundgren Foundation, The Söderberg Foundation, The King Gustaf V and Queen Victoria Freemason Foundation and the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research through the Center for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research. M.J.B. was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung. We thank B. Mauracher (Medizinische Klinik und Poliklinik IV, Klinikum der LMU) for excellent technical assistance and acknowledge the Centre for Cellular Imaging and the Genomics Core Facility at Sahlgrenska Academy for technical assistance and use of equipment. We also acknowledge assistance from J. Kilberg and P. Quick (radiology technicians at CMIV) and J. Berge, E. Edston and H. Bengtsson (forensic pathologists) at the National Board of Forensic Medicine, Linköping Division, Department of Forensic Medicine, Linköping.

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A.P., M.B., M.E.L., M.J.B. and S.E. conceived and designed the experiments. D.N., L.E., M.E.L., M.H., M.J.B., O.D.L. and T.R. performed the experiments. A.P., D.N., L.E., M.B., M.E.L., M.H., M.J.B., O.D.L., S.E. and T.R. analyzed the data. F.B., K.A.V., M.S., T.M. and P.N. provided samples. M.E.L., M.J.B. and S.E. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sven Enerbäck.

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Competing interests

S.E. is shareholder and consultant to Ember Therapeutics.

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Lidell, M., Betz, M., Leinhard, O. et al. Evidence for two types of brown adipose tissue in humans. Nat Med 19, 631–634 (2013).

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