Imaging metabolically active fat: A literature review and mechanistic insights

Joseph Frankl, Amber Sherwood, Deborah J. Clegg, Philipp E. Scherer, Orhan K. Öz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Currently, obesity is one of the leading causes death in the world. Shortly before 2000, researchers began describing metabolically active adipose tissue on cancer-surveillance18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) in adult humans. This tissue generates heat through mitochondrial uncoupling and functions similar to classical brown and beige adipose tissue in mice. Despite extensive research, human brown/beige fat’s role in resistance to obesity in humans has not yet been fully delineated. FDG uptake is the de facto gold standard imaging technique when studying brown adipose tissue, although it has not been rigorously compared to other techniques. We, therefore, present a concise review of established and emerging methods to image brown adipose tissue activity in humans. Reviewed modalities include anatomic imaging with CT and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); molecular imaging with FDG, fatty acids, and acetate; and emerging techniques. FDG-PET/CT is the most commonly used modality because of its widespread use in cancer imaging, but there are mechanistic reasons to believe other radiotracers may be more sensitive and accurate at detecting brown adipose tissue activity. Radiation-free modalities may help the longitudinal study of brown adipose tissue activity in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5509
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Acetate
  • Brown adipose tissue
  • Carbon-13
  • FDG
  • Fatty acids
  • MSOT
  • Obesity
  • PET/CT

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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