Innervation of supraclavicular adipose tissue: A human cadaveric study Academic Article uri icon


  • Functional brown adipose tissue (BAT) was identified in adult humans only in 2007 with the use of fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography imaging. Previous studies have demonstrated a negative correlation between obesity and BAT presence in humans. It is proposed that BAT possesses the capacity to increase metabolism and aid weight loss. In rodents it is well established that BAT is stimulated by the sympathetic nervous system with the interscapular BAT being innervated via branches of intercostal nerves. Whilst there is evidence to suggest that BAT possesses beta-3 adrenoceptors, no studies have identified the specific nerve branch that carries sympathetic innervation to BAT in humans. The aim of this study was to identify and trace the peripheral nerve or nerves that innervate human BAT in the supraclavicular region. The posterior triangle region of the neck of cadaveric specimens were dissected in order to identify any peripheral nerve branches piercing and/or terminating in supraclavicular BAT. A previously undescribed branch of the cervical plexus terminating in a supraclavicular adipose depot was identified in all specimens. This was typically an independent branch of the plexus, from the third cervical spinal nerve, but in one specimen was a branch of the supraclavicular nerve. Histological analysis revealed the supraclavicular adipose depot contained tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactive structures, which likely represent sympathetic axons. This is the first study that identifies a nerve branch to supraclavicular BAT-like tissue. This finding opens new avenues for the investigation of neural regulation of fat metabolism in humans.

publication date

  • 2020