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Environmental regulation of brown adipose tissue function

Project fact file

Professors Michael Symonds and Helen Budge
School / Division
Division of Child Health, Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Obesity adipose tissue development growth
Fee band
Laboratory-based project
Date posted
October 2017

Project description

Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is a primary target tissue in the prevention of obesity, especially in children. Obesity is clearly of immense global significance and worldwide predictions suggest a catastrophic epidemic of chronic obesity-related disease as its prevalence increases. Environmental factors play a critical role in determining the long term risks of developing both obesity and the Type 2 diabetes. This concept has been highlighted by the dramatically increased childhood occurrence of these conditions which were virtually unheard of in children 20 years ago. Not only is there a global epidemic of around 155 million obese children, within the United Kingdom for example, its prevalence doubled during the 1990s, with ~4 million children now obese or overweight.

Consequently, obesity in childhood is an unprecedented health challenge. Brown adipose tissue is primarily located within the supraclavicular region and is uniquely able to rapidly generate heat due to the presence of uncoupling protein 1. Heat production by BAT is 300 times that generated by all other tissues. We have pioneered a range of in vivo techniques aimed at quantifying the control of BAT during development and are international leaders in this field. These include the use of thermal imaging of children and adolescents under basal and stimulated conditions. These are being complemented by detailed experimental investigations designed to elucidate the developmental control of brown adipose tissue and promote BAT function in early life.

Ultimately, these studies could enable sustainable strategies that prevent excess adiposity in children and adolescents. Applications are invited from suitable candidates, either clinical or basic science, who are keen to contribute to this highly topical and innovative research programme.

Recent references

1. Scotney H, Symonds ME, Law J, Budge H, Sharkey D, and Manolopoulos KN. Glucocorticoids modulate human brown adipose tissue thermogenesis in vivo. Metabolism. 2017;70(125-32.

2. Law J, Morris DE, Izzi-Engbeaya C, Salem V, Coello C, Robinson L, Jayasinghe M, Scott R, Gunn R, Rabiner EA, et al. Thermal imaging is a non-invasive alternative to PET-CT for measurement of brown adipose tissue activity in humans. Journal of Nuclear Medicine. 2017;In press

3. Henry BA, Pope M, Birtwistle M, Loughnan R, Alagal R, Fuller-Jackson JP, Perry V, Budge H, Clarke IJ, and Symonds ME. Ontogeny and thermogenic role for sternal fat in female sheep. Endocrinology. 2017: 10.1210/en.2017-00081.

4. Vergnes L, Davies GR, Lin JY, Yeh MW, Livhits MJ, Harari A, Symonds ME, Sacks HS, and Reue K. Adipocyte Browning and Higher Mitochondrial Function in Periadrenal But Not SC Fat in Pheochromocytoma. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2016;101(11):4440-8.

5. Ojha S, Fainberg HP, Wilson V, Pelella G, Castellanos M, May ST, Lotto AA, Sacks H, Symonds ME, and Budge H. Gene pathway development in human epicardial adipose tissue during early life. JCI Insight. 2016;1(13):e87460.



School of Medicine

University of Nottingham
Medical School
Nottingham, NG7 2UH

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