Current Diabetes Reports

, 18:80 | Cite as

Emerging Role of AMPK in Brown and Beige Adipose Tissue (BAT): Implications for Obesity, Insulin Resistance, and Type 2 Diabetes

  • Eric M. Desjardins
  • Gregory R. Steinberg
Pathogenesis of Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance (M-E Patti, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Pathogenesis of Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance


Purpose of Review

The global prevalence of type 2 diabetes (T2D) is escalating at alarming rates, demanding the development of additional classes of therapeutics to further reduce the burden of disease. Recent studies have indicated that increasing the metabolic activity of brown and beige adipose tissue may represent a novel means to reduce circulating glucose and lipids in people with T2D. The AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a cellular energy sensor that has recently been demonstrated to be important in potentially regulating the metabolic activity of brown and beige adipose tissue. The goal of this review is to summarize recent work describing the role of AMPK in brown and beige adipose tissue, focusing on its role in adipogenesis and non-shivering thermogenesis.

Recent Findings

Ablation of AMPK in mouse adipocytes results in cold intolerance, a reduction in non-shivering thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue (BAT), and the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and insulin resistance; effects associated with a defect in mitochondrial specific autophagy (mitophagy) within BAT. The effects of a β3-adrenergic agonist on the induction of BAT thermogenesis and the browning of white adipose tissue (WAT) are also blunted in mice lacking adipose tissue AMPK. A specific AMPK activator, A-769662, also results in the activation of BAT and the browning of WAT, effects which may involve demethylation of the PR domain containing 16 (Prdm16) promoter region, which is important for BAT development.


AMPK plays an important role in the development and maintenance of brown and beige adipose tissue. Adipose tissue AMPK is reduced in people with insulin resistance, consistent with findings that mice lacking adipocyte AMPK develop greater NAFLD and insulin resistance. These data suggest that pharmacologically targeting adipose tissue AMPK may represent a promising strategy to enhance energy expenditure and reduce circulating glucose and lipids, which may be effective for the treatment of NAFLD and T2D.


AMPK Adipose tissue Adipogenesis Lipolysis Non-shivering thermogenesis 



The authors would like to express their gratitude to all the researchers who have contributed to the field of AMPK in brown/beige adipose tissue, especially those whose research they could not cite due to constraints on review length.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Eric Desjardins declares no conflicts of interest. Dr. Steinberg reports grants, personal fees, and non-financial support from Esperion Therapeutics; non-financial support from Pfizer, Merck, Sanofi, and Nestle; and personal fees from Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly.

Informed Consent

This article does not contain any experiments with human or animal subjects.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Department of MedicineMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical SciencesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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