Adipose tissue (AT) depots actively regulate whole body energy homeostasis by orchestrating complex communications with other physiological systems as well as within the tissue. Adipocytes readily respond to hormonal and nutritional inputs to store excess nutrients as intracellular lipids or mobilize the stored fat for utilization. Co-ordinated regulation of metabolic pathways balancing uptake, esterification, and hydrolysis of lipids is accomplished through positive and negative feedback interactions of regulatory hubs comprising several pleiotropic protein kinases and nuclear receptors. Metabolic regulation in adipocytes encompasses biogenesis and remodeling of uniquely large lipid droplets (LDs). The regulatory hubs also function as energy and nutrient sensors, and integrate metabolic regulation with intercellular signaling. Over-nutrition causes hypertrophic expansion of adipocytes, which, through incompletely understood mechanisms, initiates a cascade of metabolic and signaling events leading to tissue remodeling and immune cell recruitment. Macrophage activation and polarization toward a pro-inflammatory phenotype drives a self-reinforcing cycle of pro-inflammatory signals in the AT, establishing an inflammatory state. Sustained inflammation accelerates lipolysis and elevates free fatty acids in circulation, which robustly correlates with development of obesity-related diseases. The adipose regulatory network coupling metabolism, growth, and signaling of multiple cell types is exceedingly complex. While components of the regulatory network have been individually studied in exquisite detail, systems approaches have rarely been utilized to comprehensively assess the relative engagements of the components. Thus, need and opportunity exist to develop quantitative models of metabolic and signaling networks to achieve a more complete understanding of AT biology in both health and disease. WIREs Syst Biol Med 2013, 5:425–447. doi: 10.1002/wsbm.1213
Conflict of interest: The authors have declared no conflicts of interest in relation to this article.
For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.