Current liver research: More "good" cholesterol and less arteriosclerosis by activated brown adipose tissue

19 May 2017

In our society, changes in fat metabolism frequently occur due to overweight, which also dramatically increase the risk of chronic inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis. Characteristically for this disease are cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels, which obstruct and harden them.

For the first time, SFB 841 scientists around Prof. Jörg Heeren, head of subproject B6 , were able to show that the activation of brown fat tissue can produce “good” cholesterol (HDL) and accelerates the transport of cholesterol into the liver, which at the end prevents the development of atherosclerosis.

HDL, the high-density lipoprotein, and LDL, the low-density lipoprotein, are hydrophilic fat-protein complexes that transport fat in the blood through the body”, Prof. Heeren explains. They have opposite roles: LDL particles transport cholesterol into the body and high LDL levels can result in the deposition of cholesterol in the walls of the blood vessels. This “bad” LDL cholesterol thereby increases the risk of atherosclerosis. HDL particles, on the other hand, can remove excess cholesterol from the walls of the blood vessels. Thus, “good” HDL cholesterol protects the blood vessels from atherosclerosis.

So far, it was unclear whether the activation of brown adipose cells influence the metabolism and the protective properties of HDL. In their current study, Prof. Heeren and his colleagues show that the activation of brown adipose tissue leads to an increased HDL level in the blood. Cholesterol is transported from the vessels via HDL molecules and internalized by the liver, where it is degraded. “Obviously, the activation of brown adipose cells removes the cholesterol in the blood vessels as well as excess fat in other organs, thus reducing the risk of atherosclerosis”, Prof. Heeren states.


Bartelt A, John C, Schaltenberg N, Berbée JFP, Worthmann A, Cherradi ML, Schlein C, Piepenburg J, Boon MR, Rinninger F, Heine M, Toedter K, Niemeier A, Nilsson SK, Fischer M, Wijers SL, van Marken Lichtenbelt W, Scheja L, Rensen PCN, Heeren J

Thermogenic adipocytes promote HDL turnover and reverse cholesterol transport
Nat Commun. 2017 Apr 19;8:15010. doi: 10.1038/ncomms15010.

Further Information:

Have a look at the video in which Prof. Jörg Heeren explains more about fat and what it’s function in the body (in German):

Lipidforschung - Interview mit Prof. Dr. Jörg HeerenVideoarchiv

Lipidforschung - Interview mit Prof. Dr. Jörg Heeren