Perspective: Does brown fat protect against diseases of aging?

Mark P. Mattson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The most commonly studied laboratory rodents possess a specialized form of fat called brown adipose tissue (BAT) that generates heat to help maintain body temperature in cold environments. In humans, BAT is abundant during embryonic and early postnatal development, but is absent or present in relatively small amounts in adults where it is located in paracervical and supraclavicular regions. BAT cells can 'burn' fatty acid energy substrates to generate heat because they possess large numbers of mitochondria in which oxidative phosphorylation is uncoupled from ATP production as a result of a transmembrane proton leak mediated by uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1). Studies of rodents in which BAT levels are either increased or decreased have revealed a role for BAT in protection against diet-induced obesity. Data suggest that individuals with low levels of BAT are prone to obesity, insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease, whereas those with higher levels of BAT maintain lower body weights and exhibit superior health as they age. BAT levels decrease during aging, and dietary energy restriction increases BAT activity and protects multiple organ systems including the nervous system against age-related dysfunction and degeneration. Future studies in which the effects of specific manipulations of BAT levels and thermogenic activity on disease processes in animal models (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, neurodegenerative diseases) are determined will establish if and how BAT affects the development and progression of age-related diseases. Data from animal studies suggest that BAT and mitochondrial uncoupling can be targeted for interventions to prevent and treat obesity and age-related diseases. Examples include: diet and lifestyle changes; specific regimens of mild intermittent stress; drugs that stimulate BAT formation and activity; induction of brown adipose cell progenitors in muscle and other tissues; and transplantation of brown adipose cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-76
Number of pages8
JournalAgeing Research Reviews
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • diabetes
  • Insulin resistance
  • Mitochondrial uncoupling
  • UCP

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Neurology

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