A new cellular model for the study of brown adipocyte development and differentiation in vitro is presented. Preadipocytes isolated from brown adipose tissue (BAT) of the djungarian dwarf hamster Phodopus sungorus are able to proliferate and differentiate in vitro into true brown adipocytes able to express the BAT marker protein the uncoupling protein (UCP). Whereas basal UCP expression is very low, its mRNA levels as well as the UCP detected by immunoblotting are highly increased by beta-adrenergic stimulation. The novel, atypical beta-adrenergic compound D7114 (ICI Pharmaceuticals, Macclesfield, Cheshire, England) was found to increase the number of adipocytes as well as UCP mRNA and UCP content of mitochondria, indicating the involvement of an atypical or beta 3 receptor. Insulin was found to play an important role in brown adipocyte differentiation and mitochondrial development, whereas T3 seemed to be implicated more directly in UCP expression. In a defined, serum-free medium a synergistic stimulatory action of insulin and T3 on UCP expression was found, which seems to involve a pathway different from that of beta-adrenergic UCP stimulation.

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