Adipogenesis: new insights into brown adipose tissue differentiation

    1. Antonio Vidal-Puig1,2
    1. 1Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, Hinxton, UK
      2Metabolic Research Laboratories, Addenbrooke's Treatment Centre, Institute of Metabolic Science, Addenbrooke's Hospital, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
    1. Correspondence should be addressed to A Vidal-Puig; Email: ajv22{at}


    Confirmation of the presence of functional brown adipose tissue (BAT) in humans has renewed interest in investigating the potential therapeutic use of this tissue. The finding that its activity positively correlates with decreased BMI, decreased fat content, and augmented energy expenditure suggests that increasing BAT mass/activity or browning of white adipose tissue (WAT) could be a strategy to prevent or treat obesity and its associated morbidities. The challenge now is to find a safe and efficient way to develop this idea. Whereas BAT has being widely studied in murine models both in vivo and in vitro, there is an urgent need for human cellular models to investigate BAT physiology and functionality from a molecular point of view. In this review, we focus on the latest insights surrounding BAT development and activation in rodents and humans. Then, we discuss how the availability of murine models has been essential to identify BAT progenitors and trace their lineage. Finally, we address how this information can be exploited to develop human cellular models for BAT differentiation/activation. In this context, human embryonic stem and induced pluripotent stem cells-based cellular models represent a resource of great potential value, as they can provide a virtually inexhaustible supply of starting material for functional genetic studies, -omics based analysis and validation of therapeutic approaches. Moreover, these cells can be readily genetically engineered, opening the possibility of generating patient-specific cellular models, allowing the investigation of the influence of different genetic backgrounds on BAT differentiation in pathological or in physiological states.

    • Revision received 3 September 2013
    • Accepted 16 September 2013
    • Made available online as an Accepted Preprint 16 September 2013
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