Rat periovarian adipose tissue contains a low number of uncoupling protein-expressing brown adipocytes scattered into lobules of white fat. Their increase following cold acclimation is matched by a major increase in noradrenergic and neuropeptide Y-, substance P- and calcitonin gene-related peptide-containing nerves. To ascertain whether periovarian fat is provided with sensory nerves, and whether any relationship exists between such nerves (in particular the calcitonin gene-related peptide-containing fibers found in cold-acclimated rats in close association with brown adipocytes) and brown fat recruitment, the effects of capsaicin desensitization on neuropeptide-containing nerves and brown adipocyte density were studied in the periovarian tissue of rats kept at 20 degrees C and on a group acclimated to 4 degrees C for 14 days. In both groups, systemic capsaicin administration considerably reduced the expression of substance P and calcitonin gene-related peptide in vascular-nerve bundles and parenchyma. In cold-acclimated rats, the increase in brown adipocyte density was significantly checked by capsaicin administration (21.11 versus 7.96 brown adipocytes/mm2, P<0.05). Finally, ultrastructural investigation showed the occurrence of brown adipocyte precursors filled with aggregates of glycogen and poorly differentiated multilocular adipocytes in capsaicin-treated cold-acclimated rats. These data suggest that periovarian adipose tissue is indeed provided with sensory neuropeptide-containing nerves and that they play a role in the recruitment and differentiation of brown adipocytes.

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