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Kasiphak Kaikaew, Aldo Grefhorst, Jacobie Steenbergen, Sigrid M.a. Swagemakers, Anke McLuskey, and Jenny A. Visser

Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is a metabolically active organ that exhibits sex-differential features, i.e., being generally more abundant and active in females than in males. Although sex steroids, particularly estrogens, have been shown to regulate BAT thermogenic function, the underlying molecular mechanisms contributing to sexual dimorphism in basal BAT activity have not been elucidated. Therefore, we assessed the transcriptome of interscapular BAT of male and female C57BL/6J mice by RNA sequencing and identified 295 genes showing ≥2-fold differential expression (adjusted P<0.05). In silico functional annotation clustering suggested an enrichment of genes encoding proteins involved in cell-cell contact, interaction, and adhesion. Ovariectomy reduced the expression of these genes in female BAT towards a male pattern whereas orchiectomy had marginal effects on the transcriptional pattern, indicating a prominent role of female gonadal hormones in this sex-differential expression pattern. Progesterone was identified as a possible upstream regulator of the sex-differentially expressed genes. Studying direct effects of progesterone in vitro in primary adipocytes showed that progesterone significantly altered the transcription of several of the identified genes, possibly via the glucocorticoid receptor. In conclusion, this study reveals a sexually dimorphic transcription profile in murine BAT at general housing conditions and demonstrates a role for progesterone in the regulation of the interscapular BAT transcriptome.