Brown Adipose Metabolism – University of Copenhagen

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Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research > Research > Section for Metabolic Receptology > Brown Adipose Metabolism

Brown Adipose Metabolism

Gerhart-Hines Group

Mammals have three main types of adipose tissue: 

  1. White adipose, which primarily stores excess calories as triglyceride
  2. Brown adipose, which functions oppositely of white adipose to instead burn calories to produce heat
  3. Beige adipose, a unique population that possesses the ability to adopt brown adipose-like, heat-burning attributes but is physically located within the white adipose depot.

One promising approach to combat the devastating metabolic diseases of diabetes and obesity would be to pharmacologically exploit the calorie-burning action of brown and/or beige adipose.

To that end, the main two objectives of our group is:

  1. To identify and characterize the cell surface receptors responsible for sensing circadian and environmental cues and 
  2. To determine how circadian and thermogenic signaling shapes the BAT enzymatic landscape to modulate function.

We believe evolution has established a biorhythm in brown adipose activity where calorie-burning is increased while animals are awake and decreased while they are sleeping. This was likely beneficial for our distant hunter-gatherer ancestors for whom food was scarce.

However, today we are bombarded with limitless choices of low-cost, high-calorie food options. Therefore, identifying and unlocking the evolutionary brakes on BAT calorie-burning could be used to develop potent therapeutic strategies for metabolic disease.