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Magnetic resonance imaging reveals human brown adipose tissue is rapidly activated in response to cold

Cite this dataset

Morrison, Katherine et al. (2019). Magnetic resonance imaging reveals human brown adipose tissue is rapidly activated in response to cold [Dataset]. Dryad.


Context. In rodents, cold exposure induces the activation of brown adipose tissue (BAT) and the induction of intracellular triacylglycerol (TAG) lipolysis. However, in humans, the kinetics of supraclavicular (SCV) BAT activation and the potential importance of TAG stores remain poorly defined.

Objective. To determine the time course of BAT activation and changes in intracellular TAG using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) assessment of the SCV (i.e. BAT depot) and fat in the posterior neck region (i.e. non BAT).

Design. Cross-sectional.

Setting. Clinical research centre.

Patients or Other Participants. Twelve healthy male volunteers ages 18-29 years [BMI=24.7±2.8kg/m2 and body fat percentage = 25.0±7.4% (both mean±SD)].

Intervention(s). Standardized whole-body cold exposure (180 minutes at 18°C) and immediate re-warming (30 minutes at 32°C).

Main Outcome Measure(s). Proton density fat fraction (PDFF) and T2* of the SCV and posterior neck fat pads. Acquisitions occurred at 5-15 minute intervals during cooling and subsequent warming.

Results. SCV PDFF declined significantly after only 10 minutes of cold exposure [-1.6% (standard error (SE) 0.44%), p=0.007) and continued to decline until 35 minutes after which time it remained stable until 180 minutes. A similar time course was also observed for SCV T2*. In the posterior neck fat (non-BAT) there were no cold-induced changes in PDFF or T2*. Re-warming did not result in a change in SCV PDFF or T2*.

Conclusions. The rapid cold-induced decline in SCV PDFF suggests that in humans, BAT is activated quickly in response to cold and that TAG is a primary substrate.


Consistent with the research ethics board, data was collected from human study participants after informed consent.  It was collected at 2 study visits as described in the manuscript.


Usage notes

The data are the supplementary files of the affiliated manuscript.


Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Award: Programmatic Grants in Environment, Genes and Chronic Diseases