Purpose of review: The recent rediscovery of functional cold activated brown adipose tissue (BAT) in adult humans fuelled an uprise in studies on this tissue. This review focuses on the contribution of human BAT to nonshivering thermogenesis and on factors other than cold that activate BAT.
Recent findings: Earlier studies revealed BAT activity using a glucose tracer for positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) scanning. Several recent studies, using a mix of tracers and PET/CT dynamic scanning showed that human brown fat is metabolically active and related to the perfusion of the tissue. The actual contribution of BAT to nonshivering thermogenesis still needs to be explored.
The last few years, several new factors that activate human BAT have been described. These studies also highlight the plasticity of brown and white adipose tissue. Some of these factors may have pharmacological significance.
Summary: New PET/CT studies provide information on oxidative human BAT metabolism in vivo. This new information in combination with the study on factors activating BAT are promising with respect to management of obesity and related disorders.