In mammals, two types of adipose tissue are present, brown and white. They develop sequentially, as brown fat occurs during late gestation whereas white fat grows mainly after birth. However, both tissues have been shown to have great plasticity. Thus an apparent transformation of brown fat into white fat takes place during post-natal development. This observation raises questions about a possible conversion of brown into white adipocytes during development, although indirect data argue against this hypothesis. To investigate such questions in vivo, we generated two types of transgenic line. The first carried a transgene expressing Cre recombinase specifically in brown adipocytes under the control of the rat UCP1 promoter. The second corresponded to an inactive lacZ gene under the control of the human cytomegalovirus promoter. This dormant gene is inducible by Cre because it contains a Stop sequence between two loxP sequences, separating the promoter from the coding sequence. Adipose tissues of progeny derived by crossing independent lines established from both constructs were investigated. LacZ mRNA corresponding to the activated reporter gene was easily detected in brown fat and not typically in white fat, even by reverse transcriptase PCR experiments. These data represent the first direct experimental proof that, during normal development, most white adipocytes do not derive from brown adipocytes.
Abbreviations used: BAT, brown adipose tissue; CMV, cytomegalovirus; RT-PCR, reverse transcriptase PCR; WAT, white adipose tissue.