PURPOSE: Human brown adipose tissue (BAT) is known to be a significant thermoeffector in non-shivering thermogenesis (NST), albeit with individual variations in the BAT activity. We hypothesized that humans with less BAT would have more contribution from the skeletal muscle (SM) to NST or earlier shivering onset and greater vasoconstriction to compensate for less BAT-mediated thermogenesis.
METHODS: Eighteen males participated in this study. Their BAT activity and detectable volume were investigated. A gradual cold exposure was conducted for inducing NST at 18.6 °C and initiating shivering at 11.6 °C. The energy expenditure, electromyograph of the pectoralis major, skin blood flow, and rectal (Tre) and skin temperatures were evaluated.
RESULTS: BAT volume significantly correlated with the change in metabolic heat production during mild cold phase relative to baseline (NST; r = 0.562, P < 0.05), but not with shivering initiation phase (NST+ ST). SM mass correlated with baseline metabolic heat production (Mbase; r = 0.839, P < 0.01) but not with NST or NST + ST. A positive correlation was noted between BAT volume and Tre at the end of the 18.6 °C exposure period (r = 0.586, P < 0.05), which positively correlated with shivering onset time (r = 0.553, P < 0.05). The skin blood flow, mean skin temperature, and forearm and finger skin temperature difference at the end of the 18.6 °C exposure period did not correlate with NST or BAT volume.
CONCLUSION: BAT volume positively correlated with NST. Notably, lower Tre in individuals with less BAT volume induced earlier shivering onset for offsetting the less NST. Whereas, no correlation between metabolic and vasomotor responses was observed.