In obesity, adipocytes undergo dramatic morphological and molecular changes associated with alterations in their gene expression profile. To identify genes differentially modulated in white adipose tissue (WAT) of obese db/db mice compared to wild type (wt) mice, we utilized RNA fingerprinting. Among the 52 candidates that we identified, we focused here on cathepsin K (ctsk), a cysteine protease, prevalently localized in lysosomes and involved in bone extracellular matrix degradation. In db/db mice, WAT ctsk mRNA was elevated 5.9-fold, as were Mitf and TFE3 (2- and 3.3-fold respectively), two transcription factors involved in ctsk induction in osteoclasts. Moreover, the level of WAT ctsk mRNA was increased in other obese models including Ay, fat, and tubby (2.8-, 3.2-, and 4.9-fold respectively) and decreased in mice undergoing weight loss. Despite the ubiquitous distribution of the ctsk transcript, we demonstrated that the obesity related increase is specific to the adipocytes. Further, in vitro experiments proved that the abundance of ctsk transcript increases upon adipose conversion of the established cell line of preadipocytes 3T3-F442A. In addition, ctsk gene expression was examined in adipose tissue of 21 lean and obese male subjects and significant correlations with BMI (r = 0.54, P = 0.012) and plasma leptin levels (r = 0.54, P = 0.015) were found. In conclusion, the WAT of obese db/db mice exhibits a different expression profile from that of the wt mice, and cathepsin K can be considered a novel marker of obesity and a target for the inhibition of adipose mass growth. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.