The origin of brown adipocytes arising in white adipose tissue (WAT) after cold acclimatization is unclear. Here, we demonstrate that several UCP1-immunoreactive brown adipocytes occurring in WAT after cold acclimatization have a mixed morphology (paucilocular adipocytes). These cells also had a mixed mitochondrioma with classic “brown” and “white” mitochondria, suggesting intermediate steps in the process of direct transformation of white into brown adipocytes (transdifferentiation). Quantitative electron microscopy disclosed that cold exposure (6°C for 10 days) did not induce an increase in WAT preadipocytes. 3-adrenoceptor-knockout mice had a blunted brown adipocyte occurrence upon cold acclimatization. Administration of the 3-adrenoceptor agonist CL316,243 induced the occurrence of brown adipocytes, with the typical morphological features found after cold acclimatization. In contrast, administration of the 1-adrenoceptor agonist xamoterol increased only the number of preadipocytes. These findings indicate that transdifferentiation depends on 3-adrenoceptor activation, whereas preadipocyte recruitment is mediated by 1-adrenoceptor. RT-qPCR experiments disclosed that cold exposure induced enhanced expression of the thermogenic genes and of genes expressed selectively in brown adipose tissue (iBAT) and in both interscapular BAT and WAT. 3-adrenoceptor suppression blunted their expression only in WAT. Furthermore, cold acclimatization induced an increased WAT expression of the gene coding for C/EBP (an antimitotic protein), whereas Ccna1 expression (related to cell proliferation) was unchanged. Overall, our data strongly suggest that the cold-induced emergence of brown adipocytes in WAT predominantly reflects 3-adrenoceptor-mediated transdifferentiation.
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