Incidental finding of low brown adipose tissue activity in endurance-trained individuals: Methodological considerations for positron emission tomography

Eric T. Trexler, Drew McCallister, Abbie E. Smith-Ryan, Rosa T. Branca

Human Movement Science Curriculum, Department of Exercise and Sport Science, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Biomedical Research Imaging Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA


Brown adipose tissue (BAT) in adults has been shown to have a meaningful impact on energy expenditure and cold-induced thermogenesis. Data from rodent research have suggested that exercise may be a promising method of increasing BAT activity, with potential applications to the treatment and prevention of obesity and diabetes. However, emerging human research using positron emission tomography (PET) with [18F] Fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) has identified lower BAT activity in endurance-trained athletes compared to sedentary controls, despite similar metabolic rate responses to cold exposure. Here we report a similar incidental finding in a pilot study that included a sample of 2 endurance athletes and 10 untrained individuals. This incidental finding motivated a retrospective analysis of the data aimed at assessing the potential confounding influence of muscle FDG uptake on BAT estimation. Results indicated that athletes skewed the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and supraclavicular fat (sFAT) FDG uptake, while a non-significant inverse relationship between muscle FDG uptake and sFAT FDG uptake was also observed. The current retrospective analysis provides preliminary evidence suggesting that BAT estimation may be biased in endurance-trained individuals, which may relate to skeletal muscle FDG uptake. These results point to important methodological considerations for estimating BAT activity via FDG uptake, for which we propose potential solutions that facilitate unbiased estimation of BAT activity in groups that differ in terms of lean body mass and physical activity level. Journal of Nature and Science (JNSCI), 3(3):e335, 2017



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