A pinboard by
Rebecca Loh

PhD student, Monash University/Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute


To pharmacologically activate BAT in humans as a strategy to manage obesity and its co-morbidities

My research focuses on the good fat in your body – brown adipose (fat) tissue (BAT). Unlike white fat which mainly stores energy, BAT utilizes glucose and fatty acids to produce heat in the phase of cold exposure, and in doing so, expend large amounts of energy. However, signals from the brain (central nervous system) causes an increase in appetite to maintain energy balance, leading to subsequent weight regain. Hence, to harness BAT’s energy expending properties as a potential strategy to reverse obesity, it is necessary to find other ways of increasing BAT’s energy burning abilities without the need for cold exposure. My projects aim to better understand human BAT by using drugs which target specific functions of BAT to identify new means that can bypass the central nervous system to activate this tissue. Collectively, my studies intend to inform future therapeutic approaches for the management of obesity and its associate morbidities. Ultimately, I hope my work will contribute to the development of treatments which target BAT to help people who have diseases related to controlling energy storage and energy burning in the body. For example, this could be obese people trying to lose weight. Alternatively, people with type 2 diabetes may be better able to manage their disease if BAT can be activated to remove glucose and fat from their bloodstream where excessive amounts cause harm. These and associated diseases are now the biggest contributors to poor health and government healthcare costs worldwide, therefore I hope my work will play a role in reducing the global economic burden of obesity and diabetes.


Nonpungent capsaicin analogs (capsinoids) increase energy expenditure through the activation of brown adipose tissue in humans.

Abstract: Capsinoids-nonpungent capsaicin analogs-are known to activate brown adipose tissue (BAT) thermogenesis and whole-body energy expenditure (EE) in small rodents. BAT activity can be assessed by [¹⁸F]fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) in humans.The aims of the current study were to examine the acute effects of capsinoid ingestion on EE and to analyze its relation to BAT activity in humans.Eighteen healthy men aged 20-32 y underwent FDG-PET after 2 h of cold exposure (19°C) while wearing light clothing. Whole-body EE and skin temperature, after oral ingestion of capsinoids (9 mg), were measured for 2 h under warm conditions (27°C) in a single-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover design.When exposed to cold, 10 subjects showed marked FDG uptake into adipose tissue of the supraclavicular and paraspinal regions (BAT-positive group), whereas the remaining 8 subjects (BAT-negative group) showed no detectable uptake. Under warm conditions (27°C), the mean (±SEM) resting EE was 6114 ± 226 kJ/d in the BAT-positive group and 6307 ± 156 kJ/d in the BAT-negative group (NS). EE increased by 15.2 ± 2.6 kJ/h in 1 h in the BAT-positive group and by 1.7 ± 3.8 kJ/h in the BAT-negative group after oral ingestion of capsinoids (P < 0.01). Placebo ingestion produced no significant change in either group. Neither capsinoids nor placebo changed the skin temperature in various regions, including regions close to BAT deposits.Capsinoid ingestion increases EE through the activation of BAT in humans. This trial was registered at http://www.umin.ac.jp/ctr/ as UMIN 000006073.

Pub.: 02 Mar '12, Pinned: 20 Oct '17

Brown adipose tissue, whole-body energy expenditure, and thermogenesis in healthy adult men.

Abstract: Brown adipose tissue (BAT) can be identified by (18)F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG)-positron emission tomography (PET) in adult humans. Thirteen healthy male volunteers aged 20-28 years underwent FDG-PET after 2-h cold exposure at 19 °C with light-clothing and intermittently putting their legs on an ice block. When exposed to cold, 6 out of the 13 subjects showed marked FDG uptake into adipose tissue of the supraclavicular and paraspinal regions (BAT-positive group), whereas the remaining seven showed no detectable uptake (BAT-negative group). The BMI and body fat content were similar in the two groups. Under warm conditions at 27 °C, the energy expenditure of the BAT-positive group estimated by indirect calorimetry was 1,446 ± 97 kcal/day, being comparable with that of the BAT-negative group (1,434 ± 246 kcal/day). After cold exposure, the energy expenditure increased markedly by 410 ± 293 (P < 0.05) and slightly by 42 ± 114 kcal/day (P = 0.37) in the BAT-positive and -negative groups, respectively. A positive correlation (P < 0.05) was found between the cold-induced rise in energy expenditure and the BAT activity quantified from FDG uptake. After cold exposure, the skin temperature in the supraclavicular region close to BAT deposits dropped by 0.14 °C in the BAT-positive group, whereas it dropped more markedly (P < 0.01) by 0.60 °C in the BAT-negative group. The skin temperature drop in other regions apart from BAT deposits was similar in the two groups. These results suggest that BAT is involved in cold-induced increases in whole-body energy expenditure, and, thereby, the control of body temperature and adiposity in adult humans.

Pub.: 08 May '10, Pinned: 20 Oct '17

Infrared thermography for indirect assessment of activation of brown adipose tissue in lean and obese male subjects.

Abstract: Brown adipose tissue (BAT) plays a key role in adaptive thermogenesis in mammals, and it has recently been considered as an attractive therapeutic target for tackling human obesity by increasing energy expenditure. Thermal imaging using infrared thermography (IRT) has emerged as a potential safe, rapid and inexpensive technique for detecting BAT in humans. However, little attention has been given to the reliability of this method in obese subjects. To this end, we evaluated the capacity of IRT to detect activated supraclavicular (SCV) BAT in 14 lean and 16 mildly obese young adults after acute cold exposure. Using IRT we measured the temperature of the skin overlying the SCV and sternal areas at baseline and after acute cold stimulation. Additionally, energy expenditure was measured by indirect calorimetry and body composition was estimated using bioelectrical impedance analysis. Energy expenditure and SCV skin temperature significantly increased in lean subjects upon cold exposure, while no significant changes were detected in the obese group. Furthermore, cold-induced variations in SCV skin temperature of obese subjects showed a negative correlation with body mass index. This study suggests that in lean individuals BAT is a rapidly activated thermogenic tissue possibly involved in the regulation of energy balance, and can be indirectly assessed using IRT. In obese subjects, BAT seems less prone to be activated by cold exposure, with the degree of adiposity representing a limiting factor for the indirect detection of BAT activation by measuring the skin temperature overlying BAT.

Pub.: 15 Nov '16, Pinned: 20 Oct '17

Brown adipose tissue is involved in the seasonal variation of cold-induced thermogenesis in humans.

Abstract: Brown adipose tissue (BAT) contributes to whole-body energy expenditure (EE), especially cold-induced thermogenesis (CIT), in humans. Although it is known that EE and CIT vary seasonally, their relationship with BAT has not been investigated. In the present study, we examined the impact of BAT on seasonal variations of EE/CIT and thermal responses to cold exposure in a randomized crossover design. Forty-five healthy male volunteers participated, and their BAT was assessed by positron emission tomography and computed tomography. CIT, the difference of EE at 27ºC and after 2-h cold exposure at 19ºC, significantly increased in winter compared to summer, being greater in subjects with metabolically active BAT (High BAT, 185.6 kcal/d, 18.3 kcal/d, P<0.001) than those without (Low BAT, 90.6 kcal/d, -46.5 kcal/d, P<0.05). Multivariate regression analysis revealed a significant interaction effect between season and BAT on CIT (P<0.001). The cold-induced drop of tympanic temperature (Tty) and skin temperature (Tskin) in the forehead region and in the supraclavicular region close to BAT deposits were smaller in the High BAT group than in the Low BAT group in winter but not in summer. In contrast, the drop of Tskinin the subclavicular and peripheral regions distant from BAT was similar in the two groups in both seasons. In conclusion, CIT increased from summer to winter in a BAT-dependent manner, paralleling cold-induced changes in Tty/Tskin, indicating a role of BAT in seasonal changes in the thermogenic and thermal responses to cold exposure in humans.

Pub.: 01 Apr '16, Pinned: 20 Oct '17

Brown fat activation mediates cold-induced thermogenesis in adult humans in response to a mild decrease in ambient temperature.

Abstract: The contribution of brown adipose tissue (BAT) to the energy balance in humans exposed to sustainable cold has not been completely established, partially because of measurement limitations of both BAT activity and energy expenditure (EE).The objective of the study was to characterize the role of BAT activation in cold-induced thermogenesis (CIT).This study was a single-blind, randomized crossover intervention.The study was conducted at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center.Thirty-one healthy volunteers participated in the study.The intervention included mild cold exposure.CIT and BAT activation were the main outcomes in this study.Overnight EE measurement by whole-room indirect calorimeter at 24 °C or 19 °C was followed by 2-[18F]-fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose positron emission tomography (PET) scan. After 36 hours, volunteers crossed over to the alternate study temperature under identical conditions. BAT activity was measured in a 3-dimensional region of interest in the upper torso by comparing the uptake at the two temperatures.Twenty-four volunteers (14 males, 10 females) had a complete data set. When compared with 24 °C, exposure at 19 °C resulted in increased EE (5.3 ± 5.9%, P < .001), indicating CIT response and mean BAT activity (10.5 ± 11.1%, P < .001). Multiple regression analysis indicated that a difference in BAT activity (P < .001), age (P = .01), and gender (P = .037) were independent contributors to individual variability of CIT.A small reduction in ambient temperature, within the range of climate-controlled buildings, is sufficient to increase human BAT activity, which correlates with individual CIT response. This study uncovers for the first time a spectrum of BAT activation among healthy adults during mild cold exposure not previously recognized by conventional PET and PET-computed tomography methods. The enhancement of cold-induced BAT stimulation may represent a novel environmental strategy in obesity treatment.

Pub.: 20 Jun '13, Pinned: 20 Oct '17

Human brown adipose tissue [(15)O]O2 PET imaging in the presence and absence of cold stimulus.

Abstract: Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is considered a potential target for combatting obesity, as it produces heat instead of ATP in cellular respiration due to uncoupling protein-1 (UCP-1) in mitochondria. However, BAT-specific thermogenic capacity, in comparison to whole-body thermogenesis during cold stimulus, is still controversial. In our present study, we aimed to determine human BAT oxygen consumption with [(15)O]O2 positron emission tomography (PET) imaging. Further, we explored whether BAT-specific energy expenditure (EE) is associated with BAT blood flow, non-esterified fatty acid (NEFA) uptake, and whole-body EE.Seven healthy study subjects were studied at two different scanning sessions, 1) at room temperature (RT) and 2) with acute cold exposure. Radiotracers [(15)O]O2, [(15)O]H2O, and [(18)F]FTHA were given for the measurements of BAT oxygen consumption, blood flow, and NEFA uptake, respectively, with PET-CT. Indirect calorimetry was performed to assess differences in whole-body EE between RT and cold.BAT-specific EE and oxygen consumption was higher during cold stimulus (approx. 50 %); similarly, whole-body EE was higher during cold stimulus (range 2-47 %). However, there was no association in BAT-specific EE and whole-body EE. BAT-specific EE was found to be a minor contributor in cold induced whole-body thermogenesis (almost 1 % of total whole-body elevation in EE). Certain deep muscles in the cervico-thoracic region made a major contribution to this cold-induced thermogenesis (CIT) without any visual signs or individual perception of shivering. Moreover, BAT-specific EE associated with BAT blood flow and NEFA uptake both at RT and during cold stimulus.Our study suggests that BAT is a minor and deep muscles are a major contributor to CIT. In BAT, both in RT and during cold, cellular respiration is linked with circulatory NEFA uptake.

Pub.: 20 Mar '16, Pinned: 20 Oct '17

Human brown adipose tissue as a target for obesity management; beyond cold-induced thermogenesis.

Abstract: Elevating energy expenditure via adaptive thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue (BAT) is a potential strategy to reverse obesity. Much early enthusiasm for this approach, based on rodent studies, was tempered by the belief that BAT was relatively inconsequential in healthy adult humans. Interest was reinvigorated a decade ago when a series of studies re-identified BAT, primarily in upper thoracic regions, in adults. Despite the ensuing explosion of pre-clinical investigations and identification of an extensive list of potential target molecules for BAT recruitment, our understanding of human BAT physiology remains limited, particularly regarding interventions which might hold therapeutic promise. Cold-induced BAT thermogenesis (CIT) has been well studied, although is not readily translatable as an anti-obesity approach, whereas little is known regarding the role of BAT in human diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT). Furthermore, human studies dedicated to translating known pharmacological mechanisms of adipose browning from animal models are sparse. Several lines of recent evidence suggest that molecular regulation and physiology of human BAT differ to that of laboratory rodents, which form the majority of our knowledge base. This review will summarize knowledge on CIT and expand upon the current understanding and evidence gaps related to human adaptive thermogenesis via mechanisms other than cold.

Pub.: 15 Jul '17, Pinned: 20 Oct '17