Brown adipose tissue is linked to a distinct thermoregulatory response to mild cold in people

Maria Chondronikola, Elena Volpi, Elisabet Børsheim, Tony Chao, Craig Porter, Palam Annamalai, Christina Yfanti, Sebastien M. Labbe, Nicholas M. Hurren, Ioannis Malagaris, Fernardo Cesani, Labros S. Sidossis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Brown adipose tissue (BAT) plays an important role in thermoregulation in rodents. Its role in temperature homeostasis in people is less studied. To this end, we recruited 18 men [8 subjects with no/minimal BAT activity (BAT-) and 10 with pronounced BAT activity (BAT+)]. Each volunteer participated in a 6 h, individualized, non-shivering cold exposure protocol. BAT was quantified using positron emission tomography/computed tomography. Body core and skin temperatures were measured using a telemetric pill and wireless thermistors, respectively. Core body temperature decreased during cold exposure in the BAT- group only (-0.34°C, 95% CI: -0.6 to -0.1, p = 0.03), while the cold-induced change in core temperature was significantly different between BAT+ and BAT- subjects (BAT+ vs. BAT-, 0.43°C, 95% CI: 0.20-0.65, p = 0.0014). BAT volume was associated with the cold-induced change in core temperature (p = 0.01) even after adjustment for age and adiposity. Compared to the BAT- group, BAT+ subjects tolerated a lower ambient temperature (BAT-: 20.6 ± 0.3°C vs. BAT+: 19.8 ± 0.3°C, p = 0.035) without shivering. The cold-induced change in core temperature (r = 0.79, p = 0.001) and supraclavicular temperature (r = 0.58, p = 0.014) correlated with BAT volume, suggesting that these non-invasive measures can be potentially used as surrogate markers of BAT when other methods to detect BAT are not available or their use is not warranted. These results demonstrate a physiologically significant role for BAT in thermoregulation in people.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number129
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Issue numberAPR
StatePublished - Apr 19 2016


  • Body core temperature
  • Brown adipose tissue
  • Cold exposure
  • Supraclavicular skin temperature
  • Thermoregulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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