During the last years the existence of metabolically active brown adipose tissue in adult humans has been widely accepted by the research community. Its unique ability to dissipate chemical energy stored in triglycerides as heat makes it an attractive target for new drugs against obesity and its related diseases. Hence the tissue is now subject to intense research, the hypothesis being that an expansion and/or activation of the tissue is associated with a healthy metabolic phenotype. Animal studies provide evidence for the existence of at least two types of brown adipocytes. Apart from the classical brown adipocyte that is found primarily in the interscapular region where it constitutes a thermogenic organ, a second type of brown adipocyte, the so-called beige adipocyte, can appear within white adipose tissue depots. The fact that the two cell types develop from different precursors suggests that they might be recruited and stimulated by different cues and therefore represent two distinct targets for therapeutic intervention. The aim of this commentary is to discuss recent work addressing the question whether also humans possess two types of brown adipocytes and to highlight some issues when looking for molecular markers for such cells.
ME Lidell, MJ Betz, O Dahlqvist Leinhard, M Heglind, L Elander, M Slawik, T Mussack, D Nilsson, T Romu, P Nuutila, et al. Evidence for two types of brown adipose tissue in humans. Nat Med 2013; 19: 631- 4.
PMID: 23603813 DOI: 10.1038/nm.3017