Adaptive thermogenesis is the process of heat generation in response to cold stimulation. It is under the control of the sympathetic nervous system, whose chief effector is the catecholamine norepinephrine (NE). NE enhances thermogenesis through β3-adrenergic receptors to activate brown adipose tissue and by 'browning' white adipose tissue. Recent studies have reported that alternative activation of macrophages in response to interleukin (IL)-4 stimulation induces the expression of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), a key enzyme in the catecholamine synthesis pathway, and that this activation provides an alternative source of locally produced catecholamines during the thermogenic process. Here we report that the deletion of Th in hematopoietic cells of adult mice neither alters energy expenditure upon cold exposure nor reduces browning in inguinal adipose tissue. Bone marrow–derived macrophages did not release NE in response to stimulation with IL-4, and conditioned media from IL-4-stimulated macrophages failed to induce expression of thermogenic genes, such as uncoupling protein 1 (Ucp1), in adipocytes cultured with the conditioned media. Furthermore, chronic treatment with IL-4 failed to increase energy expenditure in wild-type, Ucp1−/− and interleukin-4 receptor-α double-negative (Il4ra−/−) mice. In agreement with these findings, adipose-tissue-resident macrophages did not express TH. Thus, we conclude that alternatively activated macrophages do not synthesize relevant amounts of catecholamines, and hence, are not likely to have a direct role in adipocyte metabolism or adaptive thermogenesis.

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We thank A. Fedl, L. Sehrer, L. Müller, S. Jall, D. Heine, T. Stankiewicz, K. Gaul and A. Stanley for assistance with in vitro and ex vivo analysis. The mice with floxed Th were kindly provided by R. Palmiter. This work was supported in part by funding to M.H.T. from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Helmholtz Alliance ICEMED & the Helmholtz Initiative on Personalized Medicine iMed by Helmholtz Association, and the Helmholtz cross-program topic “Metabolic Dysfunction.” This work was further supported by grants from the German Research Foundation DFG-TS226/1-1, DFG-TS226/3-1, SFB1123, Nutripathos Project ANR-15-CE14-0030, European Research Council ERC AdG HypoFlam no. 695054 (to M.H.T.); DFG He3260/8-1, the EU FP7 Network “DIABAT,” the EU ITN Network “TRAIN” 721531 (to S.H.); NIH R01 AA023416, DK082724 and a career-development award from the American Diabetes Association (to C.B.); NIH R01DK099222 (to S.D.); NIH DK17844 (to S.C.W.); the Israeli Science Foundation and European Research Council (AdvERC grant 340345) (to S.J.) and the Swedish Research Council and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (to J.N. and B.C.). We would like to dedicate this manuscript to the memory of Tim Bartness, whose work delineates the important role of the SNS in adipose tissue function.

Author information

Author notes

    • Andrew C Shin

    Present address: Department of Nutritional Sciences, College of Human Sciences, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, USA.

    • Timo D Müller
    •  & Christoph Buettner

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Institute for Diabetes and Obesity, Helmholtz Diabetes Center (HDC), Helmholtz Zentrum München and German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), München-Neuherberg, Germany.

    • Katrin Fischer
    • , Brian Finan
    • , Christoffer Clemmensen
    • , Elke Glasmacher
    • , Susanne Keipert
    • , Martin Jastroch
    • , Gustav Collden
    • , Matthias H Tschöp
    •  & Timo D Müller
  2. Division of Metabolic Diseases, Department of Medicine, Technische Universität München, Munich, Germany.

    • Katrin Fischer
    • , Brian Finan
    • , Christoffer Clemmensen
    • , Gustav Collden
    •  & Matthias H Tschöp
  3. Diabetes, Metabolism and Obesity Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York, USA.

    • Henry H Ruiz
    • , Kevin Jhun
    • , Douglas J Oberlin
    • , Verena van der Heide
    • , Andrew C Shin
    • , Dirk Homann
    •  & Christoph Buettner
  4. Department of Molecular Biosciences, The Wenner-Gren Institute, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.

    • Anastasia V Kalinovich
    • , Natasa Petrovic
    • , Jan Nedergaard
    •  & Barbara Cannon
  5. Weizmann Institute of Science Department of Immunology, Rehovot, Israel.

    • Yochai Wolf
    •  & Steffen Jung
  6. Department of Pediatrics, Division of Immunobiology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

    • Senad Divanovic
  7. International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cape Town component & University of Cape Town, IDM, Division Immunology & SAMRC, Cape Town, South Africa.

    • Frank Brombacher
  8. Department of Animal Physiology, Faculty of Biology, Philipps University of Marburg, Marburg, Germany.

    • Martin Jastroch
  9. Molecular Exposomics, Helmholtz Zentrum München, German National Diabetes Center (DZD), Neuherberg, Germany.

    • Joachim Nagler
    •  & Karl-Werner Schramm
  10. Institute for Diabetes and Cancer (IDC), Helmholtz Zentrum München, German National Diabetes Center (DZD), Neuherberg, Germany, and Joint IDC-Heidelberg Translational Diabetes Program, Inner Medicine I, Heidelberg University Hospital, Heidelberg, Germany.

    • Dasa Medrikova
    •  & Stephan Herzig
  11. Metabolic Diseases Institute, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

    • Stephen C Woods
  12. Department of Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York, USA.

    • Christoph Buettner


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K.F. co-conceptualized the project, designed and performed in vitro, in vivo and ex vivo experiments, analyzed and interpreted data and wrote the manuscript. B.F. and C.C. helped to design experiments and interpreted data. H.H.R., K.J., D.J.O., V.v.d.H., A.C.S. and D.H. performed, analyzed and interpreted the inducible THΔper mouse, validation of antibodies and BM chimera data. A.V.K. and N.P. performed, analyzed and interpreted in vivo experiments in Ucp1−/− mice. J.N. and K.-W.S. performed, analyzed and interpreted catecholamine data. Y.W. and S.J. performed, analyzed and interpreted tyrosine hydroxylase staining. F.B. generated the Il4ra−/− mouse. S.D., E.G., S.K., M.J., D.M., G.C., S.H., J.N. and B.C. helped to design experiments and interpreted data. S.C.W. helped with the interpretation of data and drafting the manuscript. M.H.T. co-conceptualized the project and interpreted all data. T.D.M. and C.B. co-conceptualized the project, interpreted all data, supervised the studies and wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Timo D Müller or Christoph Buettner.

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