Inhibition of lipolysis: A novel explanation for the hypothermic actions of acetaminophen in non-febrile rodents

Shazma Bashir, Busayo Elegunde, Winston A. Morgan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Acetaminophen is both widely used to treat children with fever and is also responsible for thousands being hospitalised annually. Historically the antipyretic actions of acetaminophen were attributed to the inhibition of cyclooxygenase (COX-1/2) enzymes and more recently a novel COX-1 variant (COX-3) located in the brain. However, the evidence for acetaminophen-mediated COX inhibition remains contentious. This study assesses the impact of acetaminophen and other putative COX-3 inhibitors on the release of fatty acids during lipolysis as an alternative mechanism by which antipyretics can reduce body temperature during fever. 3T3-L1 adipocytes, primary brown adipocytes and isolated mitochondria were exposed to COX-3 inhibitors and lipolysis and mitochondrial electron transport chain function assessed. Acetaminophen, aminopyrine and antipyrine at 1–10 mM caused a significant decrease (up to 70%; P < 0.01, from control) in lipolysis within 1, 3 and 24 h without affecting cell viability. The inhibition was observed regardless of where along its signalling pathway lipolysis was stimulated. All three compounds were found to significantly attenuate mitochondrial function by up to 30% for complex I and 40% for complex II (P < 0.01, from control). These novel observations combined with the known limited inhibition of the COX enzymes by acetaminophen suggest both the antipyretic and hypothermia induced by acetaminophen and related compounds could be attributed to the direct inhibition of lipolysis and mitochondrial function, rather than cyclooxygenase inhibition centrally. Further these observations could provide new drug targets for reducing fever with the added bonus of fewer individuals being hospitalized by accidental acetaminophen overdose.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113774
JournalBiochemical Pharmacology
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
All funding for all the authors came directly from the University of East London.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Inc.


  • Acetaminophen
  • Cyclooxygenase
  • Electron transport chain
  • Hypothermia
  • Lipolysis
  • Mitochondria


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