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Journal of Obesity
Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 204094, 4 pages
Review Article

Does Adipose Tissue Thermogenesis Play a Role in Metabolic Health?

1Metabolism Unit, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Department of Surgery, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX 77550, USA
2Department of Surgery, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX 77550, USA
3Department of Internal Medicine, Sealy Center on Aging, Institute for Translational Sciences, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX 77550, USA
4Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Harokopio University, Athens, Greece

Received 16 February 2013; Accepted 28 March 2013

Academic Editor: Manisha S. Chandalia

Copyright © 2013 Craig Porter et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The function ascribed to brown adipose tissue in humans has long been confined to thermoregulation in neonates, where this thermogenic capacity was thought lost with maturation. Recently, brown adipose tissue depots have been identified in adult humans. The significant oxidative capacity of brown adipocytes and the ability of their mitochondria to respire independently of ATP production, has led to renewed interest in the role that these adipocytes play in human energy metabolism. In our view, there is a need for robust physiological studies determining the relationship between molecular signatures of brown adipose tissue, adipose tissue mitochondrial function, and whole body energy metabolism, in order to elucidate the significance of thermogenic adipose tissue in humans. Until such information is available, the role of thermogenic adipose tissue in human metabolism and the potential that these adipocytes may prevent or treat obesity and metabolic diseases in humans will remain unknown. In this article, we summarize the recent literature pertaining to brown adipose tissue function with the aims of drawing the readers’ attention to the lack of data concerning the role of brown adipocytes in human physiology, and to the potential limitations of current research strategies.