Ontogeny and thermogenic role for sternal fat in female sheep

Belinda A. Henry, Mark Pope, Mark Birtwistle, Rachael Loughnan, Reham Alagal, John-Paul Fuller-Jackson, Viv Perry, Helen Budge, Iain J. Clarke, Michael E. Symonds

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Brown adipose tissue acting through a unique uncoupling protein (UCP1) has a critical role in preventing hypothermia in newborn sheep but is then thought to rapidly disappear during postnatal life. The extent to which the anatomical location of fat influences postnatal development and thermogenic function in adulthood, particularly following feeding, is unknown, and we examined both in our study. Changes in gene expression of functionally important pathways (i.e., thermogenesis, development, adipogenesis, and metabolism) were compared between sternal and retroperitoneal fat depots together with a representative skeletal muscle over the first month of postnatal life, coincident with the loss of brown fat and the accumulation of white fat. In adult sheep, implanted temperature probes were used to characterize the thermogenic response of fat and muscle to feeding and the effects of reduced or increased adiposity. UCP1 was more abundant in sternal fat than in retroperitoneal fat and was retained only in the sternal depot of adults. Distinct differences in the abundance of gene pathway markers were apparent between tissues, with sternal fat exhibiting some similarities with muscle that were not apparent in the retroperitoneal depot. In adults, the postprandial rise in temperaturewas greater andmore prolonged in sternal fat than in retroperitoneal fat and muscle, a difference that was maintained with altered adiposity. In conclusion, sternal adipose tissue retains UCP1 into adulthood, when it shows a greater thermogenic response to feeding than do muscle and retroperitoneal fat. Sternal fat may be more amenable to targeted interventions that promote thermogenesis in large mammals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2212-2225
Number of pages14
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017


  • energy balance
  • obesity
  • metabolism

Cite this

Henry, B. A., Pope, M., Birtwistle, M., Loughnan, R., Alagal, R., Fuller-Jackson, J-P., Perry, V., Budge, H., Clarke, I. J., & Symonds, M. E. (2017). Ontogeny and thermogenic role for sternal fat in female sheep. Endocrinology, 158(7), 2212-2225. https://doi.org/10.1210/en.2017-00081