Characterization of immortalized human brown and white pre-adipocyte cell models from a single donor

Lasse K Markussen, Marie S Isidor, Peter Breining, Elise S Andersen, Nanna E Rasmussen, Louise I Petersen, Steen B Pedersen, Bjørn Richelsen, Jacob B Hansen

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Brown adipose tissue with its constituent brown adipocytes is a promising therapeutic target in metabolic disorders due to its ability to dissipate energy and improve systemic insulin sensitivity and glucose homeostasis. The molecular control of brown adipocyte differentiation and function has been extensively studied in mice, but relatively little is known about such regulatory mechanisms in humans, which in part is due to lack of human brown adipose tissue derived cell models. Here, we used retrovirus-mediated overexpression to stably integrate human telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) into stromal-vascular cell fractions from deep and superficial human neck adipose tissue biopsies from the same donor. The brown and white pre-adipocyte cell models (TERT-hBA and TERT-hWA, respectively) displayed a stable proliferation rate and differentiation until at least passage 20. Mature TERT-hBA adipocytes expressed higher levels of thermogenic marker genes and displayed a higher maximal respiratory capacity than mature TERT-hWA adipocytes. TERT-hBA adipocytes were UCP1-positive and responded to β-adrenergic stimulation by activating the PKA-MKK3/6-p38 MAPK signaling module and increasing thermogenic gene expression and oxygen consumption. Mature TERT-hWA adipocytes underwent efficient rosiglitazone-induced 'browning', as demonstrated by strongly increased expression of UCP1 and other brown adipocyte-enriched genes. In summary, the TERT-hBA and TERT-hWA cell models represent useful tools to obtain a better understanding of the molecular control of human brown and white adipocyte differentiation and function as well as of browning of human white adipocytes.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)e0185624
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Adipocytes/cytology
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown/cytology
  • Adipose Tissue, White/cytology
  • Biopsy
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Colforsin/pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Isoproterenol/pharmacology
  • Neck
  • Retroviridae/genetics
  • Telomerase/genetics
  • Thermogenesis
  • Thiazolidinediones/pharmacology
  • Tissue Donors


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