Context: Although brown adipose tissue (BAT) activity is increased by a cold environment, little is known of the response of human white adipose tissue (WAT) to the cold.

Design: We examined both abdominal and thigh subcutaneous (SC) WAT from 71 subjects who were biopsied in the summer or winter, and adipose expression was assessed after an acute cold stimulus applied to the thigh of physically active young subjects.

Results: In winter, UCP1 and PGC1 α mRNA were increased 4 to 10-fold (p<0.05) and 1.5 to 2-fold, respectively, along with beige adipose markers, and UCP1 protein was 3-fold higher in the winter. The seasonal increase in abdominal SC WAT UCP1 mRNA was considerably diminished in subjects with a BMI > 30 kg/m2, suggesting that dysfunctional WAT in obesity inhibits adipose thermogenesis. After applying an acute cold stimulus to the thigh of subjects for 30 min, PGC1α and UCP1 mRNA was stimulated 2.7-fold (p < 0.05) and 1.9-fold (p = 0.07), respectively. Acute cold also induced a 2 to 3-fold increase in PGC1α and UCP1 mRNA in human adipocytes in vitro, which was inhibited by macrophage-conditioned medium and by the addition of TNFα.

Conclusion: Human SC WAT increases thermogenic genes seasonally and acutely in response to a cold stimulus and this response is inhibited by obesity and inflammation. (J Clin Endocrinol Metab 99: E2772–E2779, 2014)

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