Brown adipocytes regulate energy expenditure via mitochondrial uncoupling, which makes them attractive therapeutic targets to tackle obesity. However, the regulatory mechanisms underlying brown adipogenesis are still poorly understood. To address this, we profiled the transcriptome and chromatin state during mouse brown fat cell differentiation, revealing extensive gene expression changes and chromatin remodeling, especially during the first day post-differentiation. To identify putatively causal regulators, we performed transcription factor binding site overrepresentation analyses in active chromatin regions and prioritized factors based on their expression correlation with the bona-fide brown adipogenic marker Ucp1 across multiple mouse and human datasets. Using loss-of-function assays, we evaluated both the phenotypic effect as well as the transcriptomic impact of several putative regulators on the differentiation process, uncovering ZFP467, HOXA4 and Nuclear Factor I A (NFIA) as novel transcriptional regulators. Of these, NFIA emerged as the regulator yielding the strongest molecular and cellular phenotypes. To examine its regulatory function, we profiled the genomic localization of NFIA, identifying it as a key early regulator of terminal brown fat cell differentiation.
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