Associate Professorship of Exercise Biology involved in SFB/Transregio

The subproject P04 investigates whether and how white adipose tissue can be converted into beige or brown activated adipose tissue by means of exercise
The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is the central self-governing organisation of science in Germany
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[Translate to en:] Prof. Dr. Henning Wackerhage, Leiter der Professur für Sportbiologie

The Associate Professorship of Exercise Biology headed by Prof. Dr. Henning Wackerhage was successful with a sub-project within a DFG Collaborative Research Centre/Transregio (SFB/TRR). Together with the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Bonn, the Professorship will carry out the project P04 "ExBat: Effect of acute and chronic exercise on human thermogenic adipose tissue & elucidation of mechanisms". The funding amount for both institutes is around 550,000 euros.

The SFB/TRR entitled "Brown and beige fat - organ interactions, signalling pathways and energy balance (BATenergy)" is being implemented under the leadership of the University of Bonn together with the University of Hamburg and the Technical University of Munich.

Around three billion people worldwide suffer from overweight and obesity, especially in the western industrial nations. This leads to secondary diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. It has recently become known that thermogenic adipose tissue, which consists of brown and beige adipose tissue, is important for a healthy energy metabolism. In addition, high thermogenic adipose tissue activity may protect against metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes or obesity because it increases energy turnover by producing heat. The aim is to find out how white adipose tissue, which cannot produce heat, can be converted into beige adipose tissue, which can produce heat. In addition, it will be investigated how beige and brown adipose tissue can be activated so that more calories are burned through increased heat production. The SFB/Transregio aims to conduct cross-disciplinary research in this area in order to understand the causes of obesity and to develop treatment methods for metabolic diseases.

Subproject P04, conducted by the Wackerhage project group, investigates how physical training regulates the tanning of white adipose tissue and how it influences the energy consumption and heat production of beige and brown adipose tissue in humans. A total of three studies will be conducted for this purpose. In the first study, twelve women and twelve men aged 18 to 40 will complete three training sessions in random order: high intensity interval training (HIIT), moderate intensity continuous exercise (MICT) and resistance training with six strength training exercises. During all experiments, blood samples are taken five minutes, 30 minutes and 120 minutes after exercise. From these blood samples, the lactate, glucose and insulin levels are then analysed. The serum from the blood is used to investigate whether the exercise serum converts white fat cells into beige fat cells and whether it stimulates heat production in beige and brown fat cells by measuring the heat-producing protein UCP1 ("Uncoupling Protein 1") in human fat cells.

"In humans, brown adipose tissue is located in the shoulder area as well as the spine," explains Prof. Wackerhage. "Previous studies have shown that people who have more brown adipose tissue are healthier overall. For this reason, we now want to find out why this is and how to activate the beige and brown adipose tissue so that it produces heat and burns calories. Our focus is on physical exercise, as our and other data have shown that physical exercise has an impact on thermogenic adipose tissue. This phenomenon is known as post-exercise burn, which means that energy continues to be consumed at a higher rate even after physical exertion. We suspect that this is because the thermogenic adipose tissue is activated. For this reason, we are now investigating which sport works best to initiate heat production and increased energy expenditure."

The second study will analyse how the regulation of thermogenic adipose tissue changes when subjects exercise continuously over twelve weeks. Here, too, twelve female and male test subjects will be recruited who will complete either endurance or muscle-building training over a period of three months. Before and after the twelve-week training, subcutaneous biopsies of the white adipose tissue are taken from all participants. In addition, brown adipose tissue will be taken from half of the test persons. RNA will be extracted from these samples to see if the training programme changes the amount of the heat-producing UCP1 protein. From blood samples taken, serum will again be used to analyse how it affects the heat production of fat cells. All of this will show how much an exercise programme can influence the ability to produce heat and burn energy, and what type of exercise works best.

The third study is designed to identify mechanisms by which exercise regulates thermogenic adipose tissue. "Here the goal is discovery research," says Prof. Wackerhage. "We not only want to describe how physical exertion influences heat production and energy turnover, but will also try to identify those molecules that regulate this. By cooperating with the strong other research groups in this Collaborative Research Centre/Transregio, we have a good chance here to discover molecules that either convert white fat cells into beige fat cells or that increase energy consumption by activating beige and brown fat cells."


Collaborative Research Centres (Sonderforschungsbereiche, SFB) are long-term research institutions at universities, designed to last up to twelve years (usually three times four years), in which scientists work together as part of an interdisciplinary research programme. The classic SFB is usually applied for by a university. The SFB/Transregio (TRR) is applied for jointly by several (usually up to three) universities. The funding enables close supraregional cooperation between universities and their researchers as well as networking and joint use of resources. A total of almost 830 million Euros is available annually for SFB/TRRs in the DFG's budget. As of January 2022, the DFG will thus fund a total of 279 SFBs.


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Prof. Dr. Henning Wackerhage
Associate Professorship of Exercise Biology
Georg-Brauchle Ring 60/62
80992 München

phone: 089 289 24480
e-mail: Henning.Wackerhage(at)


Text: Romy Schwaiger
Photos/Graph: Prof. Dr. Henning Wackerhage/DFG/private