Glucocorticoids and regulation of brown adipose tissue in humans – physiological and pathophysiological considerations

  • Aleksander Rajczewski Poznan University of Medical Sciences
  • Magdalena Gibas-Dorna Poznan University of Medical Sciences, Department of Physiology
Keywords: brown adipose tissue, glucocorticoids, obesity, WAT browning


This review discusses the effects of glucocorticoids (GCs) on brown adipose tissue (BAT) in the context of obesity prevention and therapy. Due to the unique expression of the uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1), BAT is capable of non-shivering thermogenesis, also defined as a metabolic heat production, related to increased metabolic rate. All processes that contribute to an increase in activity and/or quantity of BAT are able to upturn metabolism, and thus enable the above therapeutic goals to be achieved. GCs may stimulate BAT differentiation and proliferation. In the case of differentiation, the opposite effect of GCs has been also described. Within white adipose tissue (WAT) GCs inhibit the formation of so called beige adipocytes that are functionally and morphologically similar to the adipocytes from BAT. The activity of GCs with concomitant inhibition of WAT browning is mediated by the induction of microRNA-27b (MIR27B) expression. GCs are responsible for the decline in BAT activity as the body ages. Depriving the body of an enzyme responsible for local reduction of cortisone into an active GC-cortisol in BAT (11ß-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1; 11ß-HSD1) prevents the reduction of BAT activity. The effects of high doses of GCs on BAT generally depend on the exposure time. Prolonged elevation in GCs level decreases BAT activity. During adrenergic stimulation the effect of GCs on BAT is ambiguous, because both decrease and increase in activity has been described. A full understanding of the GCs impact on brown remodeling in WAT may reveal a discovery of a novel preventive and therapeutic strategies for obesity and possibly other metabolic disorders.