Do Fat Cells Sense Temperature?

sharma-obesity-batThe short answer is, “yes”.

According to conventional wisdom (as regular readers are probably well aware), the thermogenic (heat production) of brown fat cells and the “browning” of white fat cells is stimulated by activation of the the sympathetic nervous system.

Now a paper by Ye and colleagues from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA, published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science (US), shows that simply cooling cultured white and beige (but not brown) fat cells in the laboratory to below 33 °C can directly activate directly activate a thermogenic gene program that appears independent of the typical cAMP/Protein Kinase A/cAMP response element-binding protein pathway that is downstream of the β-adrenergic receptors.

Whether this pathway can be turned on in whole animals and whether or not it can be harnessed to stimulate the “browning” of white adipocytes remains to be seen.

But the notion that these effects can be achieved by bypassing the sympathetic nervous system, the stimulation of which can have adverse cardiometabolic effects including increases in heart rate and blood pressure, provides some hope to researchers looking for new ways to harness nonshivering thermogenesis for the treatment of obesity and metabolic diseases.

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ResearchBlogging.orgYe L, Wu J, Cohen P, Kazak L, Khandekar MJ, Jedrychowski MP, Zeng X, Gygi SP, & Spiegelman BM (2013). Fat cells directly sense temperature to activate thermogenesis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PMID: 23818608