Chronic Intermittent Hypoxia during Sleep Causes Browning of Interscapular Adipose Tissue Accompanied by Local Insulin Resistance in Mice

Tehila Dahan, Shahd Nassar, Olga Yajuk, Eliana Steinberg, Ofra Benny, Nathalie Abudi, Inbar Plaschkes, Hadar Benyamini, David Gozal, Rinat Abramovitch, Alex Gileles-Hillel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a highly prevalent condition, characterized by intermittent hypoxia (IH), sleep disruption, and altered autonomic nervous system function. OSA has been independently associated with dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. Brown adipose tissue (BAT) has been suggested as a modulator of systemic glucose tolerance through adaptive thermogenesis. Reductions in BAT mass have been associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome. No studies have systematically characterized the effects of chronic IH on BAT. Thus, we aimed to delineate IH effects on BAT and concomitant metabolic changes. C57BL/6J 8-week-old male mice were randomly assigned to IH during sleep (alternating 90 s cycles of 6.5% FIO2 followed by 21% FIO2) or normoxia (room air, RA) for 10 weeks. Mice were subjected to glucose tolerance testing and 18F-FDG PET–MRI towards the end of the exposures followed by BAT tissues analyses for morphological and global transcriptomic changes. Animals exposed to IH were glucose intolerant despite lower total body weight and adiposity. BAT tissues in IH-exposed mice demonstrated characteristic changes associated with “browning”—smaller lipids, increased vascularity, and a trend towards higher protein levels of UCP1. Conversely, mitochondrial DNA content and protein levels of respiratory chain complex III were reduced. Pro-inflammatory macrophages were more abundant in IH-exposed BAT. Transcriptomic analysis revealed increases in fatty acid oxidation and oxidative stress pathways in IH-exposed BAT, along with a reduction in pathways related to myogenesis, hypoxia, and IL-4 anti-inflammatory response. Functionally, IH-exposed BAT demonstrated reduced absorption of glucose on PET scans and reduced phosphorylation of AKT in response to insulin. Current studies provide initial evidence for the presence of a maladaptive response of interscapular BAT in response to chronic IH mimicking OSA, resulting in a paradoxical divergence, namely, BAT browning but tissue-specific and systemic insulin resistance. We postulate that oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and inflammation may underlie these dichotomous outcomes in BAT.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number15462
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number24
StatePublished - 7 Dec 2022

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© 2022 by the authors.


  • brown adipose tissue
  • glucose tolerance
  • hypoxia
  • insulin sensitivity
  • intermittent hypoxia
  • metabolism
  • sleep apnea


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