Our understanding of white adipose tissue (WAT) biochemistry has evolved over the last few decades and it is now clear that WAT is not simply a site of energy storage, but rather a pliable endocrine organ demonstrating dynamic responsiveness to the effects of aerobic exercise. Similar to its established effects in skeletal muscle, aerobic exercise induces many biochemical adaptations in WAT including mitochondrial biogenesis and browning. While past research has focused on the regulation of these biochemical processes, there has been renewed interest as of late given the potential of harnessing WAT mitochondrial biogenesis and browning to treat obesity and type II diabetes. Unfortunately, despite increasing evidence that innumerable factors, both exercise induced and pharmacological, can elicit these biochemical adaptations in WAT, the underlying mechanisms remain poorly defined. Here, we begin with a historical account of our understanding of WAT exercise biochemistry before presenting detailed evidence in favour of an up-to-date model by which aerobic exercise induces mitochondrial biogenesis and browning in WAT. Specifically, we discuss how aerobic exercise induces increases in WAT lipolysis and re-esterification and how this could be a trigger that activates the cellular energy sensor 5′ AMP-activated protein kinase to mediate the induction of mitochondrial biogenesis and browning via the transcriptional co-activator peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma co-activator-1 alpha. While this review primarily focuses on mechanistic results from rodent studies special attention is given to the translation of these results, or lack thereof, to human physiology.

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