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Keywords:

  • Brown adipose tissue;
  • Energy expenditure;
  • Weight loss

Abstract

The identification of functional brown adipose tissue in human adults has intensified interest in exploiting thermogenic energy expenditure for the purpose of weight management. However, food intake and energy expenditure are tightly regulated and it is generally accepted that variation in one component results in compensatory changes in the other. In the context of weight loss, additional biological adaptations occur in an attempt to further limit weight loss. In the present review, we discuss the relationship between increasing energy expenditure and body weight in humans, including the effects of cold exposure. The data raise the possibility that some processes, particularly those involved in thermogenesis, induce less compensatory food intake for a given magnitude of additional energy expenditure, a state we term the ‘thermogenic disconnect’. Although cold exposure increases thermogenesis and can putatively be exploited to induce weight loss, there are multiple adaptive responses to cold, of which many actually reduce energy expenditure. In order to optimally exploit either cold itself or agents that mimic cold for thermogenic energy expenditure, these non-thermogenic cold responses must be considered. Finally, the relative contribution of brown adipose tissue vs other thermogenic processes in humans remains to be defined. However, overall the data suggest that activation of cold-induced thermogenic processes are promising targets for interventions to treat obesity and its secondary metabolic complications. (J Diabetes Invest, doi:10.1111/j.2040-1124.2011.00158.x, 2011)