Brown and white adipose tissues. Intrinsic differences in gene expression and response to cold exposure in mice

Meritxell Rosell, Myrsini Kaforou, Andrea Frontini, Anthony Okolo, Yi-Wah Chan, Evanthia Nikolopoulou, Steven Millership, Matthew E. Fenech, David MacIntyre, Jeremy O. Turner, Jonathan D. Moore, Edith Blackburn, William J. Gullick, Saverio Cinti, Giovanni Montana, Malcolm G. Parker, Mark Christian

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282 Citations (Scopus)


Brown adipocytes dissipate energy whereas white adipocytes are an energy storage site. We explored the plasticity of different white adipose tissue depots in acquiring a brown phenotype by cold exposure. By comparing cold-induced genes in white fat to those enriched in brown compared to white fat, at thermoneutrality, we defined a "BRITE" transcription signature. We identified the genes, pathways and promoter regulatory motifs associated with "browning" as these represent novel targets for understanding this process. For example, Neuregulin 4 was more highly expressed in brown adipose tissue, upregulated in white fat upon cold exposure and cell studies showed it is a neurite outgrowth-promoting adipokine, indicative of a role in increasing adipose tissue innervation in response to cold. A cell culture system that allows us to reproduce the differential properties of the discrete adipose depots was developed to study depot specific differences at an in vitro level. The key transcriptional events underpinning white adipose tissue to brown transition are important as they represent an attractive proposition to overcome the detrimental effects associated with metabolic disorders including obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberE945-E964
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number8
Early online date18 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2014


  • Adipose
  • brown fat
  • adipokine

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