The gut hormone secretin triggers a gut–brown fat–brain axis in the control of food intake

Katharina Schnabl, Yongguo Li, Martin Klingenspor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


New Findings: What is the topic of this review? Brown fat's role in meal-associated thermogenesis and the related consequences for energy balance regulation with a focus on the gut hormone secretin, which has been identified as the endocrine molecular mediator of meal-associated brown fat thermogenesis. What advances does it highlight? The finding of the secretin-induced gut–brown fat–brain axis creates new opportunities to manipulate brown fat and thereby energy balance in a natural way while living in a thermoneutral environment. The role of brown fat as a mere catabolic heater organ needs to be revised and more attention should be directed towards the regulatory role of brown fat beyond energy expenditure. Abstract: Brown fat research concentrates on the energy expenditure function of this heating organ, whereas previous evidence for a role of brown fat in regulating energy intake has been mostly neglected. Ingestion of a single mixed meal activates human brown fat thermogenesis to the same degree as cold. In mice, activation of brown fat thermogenesis with a β3-adrenergic receptor agonist inhibits food intake. Pharmacological β-blockade, however, inhibits neither meal-associated thermogenesis nor food intake. We recently identified the gut hormone secretin as a non-adrenergic activator of brown fat. In vivo, secretin treatment acutely increases energy expenditure and inhibits food intake in wild-type, but not in uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1)-knockout (KO) mice, which lack thermogenic brown fat function. Concurrently, secretin alters gene expression of melanocortinergic peptides of hypothalamic neurons in wild-type mice, but not UCP1-KO. Blocking endogenous secretin with a neutralizing antibody attenuates brown fat thermogenesis during refeeding, increases food intake of mice, and alters ad libitum feeding behaviour. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that secretin triggers an endocrine gut–brown adipose tissue–brain axis in the control of satiation. We hypothesize that meal-associated activation of brown adipose tissue thermogenesis induced by secretin results in a rise in brain temperature and increased melanocortinergic signalling. Taken together, brown fat is not a mere heating organ dissipating excess calories but also involved in gut–brain communication in the control of food intake.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1206-1213
Number of pages8
JournalExperimental Physiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2020


  • brown adipose tissue
  • food intake
  • mitochondria
  • thermogenesis


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