Brown adipose tissue (BAT), a specialized fat that dissipates energy to produce heat, plays an important role in the regulation of energy balance. Two types of thermogenic adipocytes with distinct developmental and anatomical features exist in rodents and humans: classical brown adipocytes and beige (also referred to as brite) adipocytes. While classical brown adipocytes are located mainly in dedicated BAT depots of rodents and infants, beige adipocytes sporadically reside with white adipocytes and emerge in response to certain environmental cues, such as chronic cold exposure, a process often referred to as "browning" of white adipose tissue. Recent studies indicate the existence of beige adipocytes in adult humans, making this cell type an attractive therapeutic target for obesity and obesity-related diseases, including type 2 diabetes. This Review aims to cover recent progress in our understanding of the anatomical, developmental, and functional characteristics of brown and beige adipocytes and discuss emerging questions, with a special emphasis on adult human BAT.
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