Brown and white adipose tissues are essential for maintenance of proper energy balance and metabolic health. In order to function efficiently, these tissues require both endocrine and neural communication with the brain. Brown adipose tissue (BAT), as well as the inducible brown adipocytes that appear in white adipose tissue (WAT) after simulation, are thermogenic and energy expending. This uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1)-mediated process requires input from sympathetic nerves releasing norepinephrine. In addition to sympathetic noradrenergic signaling, adipose tissue contains sensory nerves that may be important for relaying fuel status to the brain. Chemical and surgical denervation studies of both WAT and BAT have clearly demonstrated the role of peripheral nerves in browning, thermogenesis, lipolysis, and adipogenesis. However, much is still unknown about which subtypes of nerves are present in BAT versus WAT, what nerve products are released from adipose nerves and how they act to mediate metabolic homeostasis, as well as which cell types in adipose are receiving synaptic input. Recent advances in whole-depot imaging and quantification of adipose nerve fibers, as well as other new research findings, have reinvigorated this field of research. This review summarizes the history of research into adipose innervation and brain–adipose communication, and also covers landmark and recent research on this topic to outline what we currently know and do not know about adipose tissue nerve supply and communication with the brain.
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