White Adipose Tissue: Getting Nervous


Dr E. Fliers, Academic Medical Center of the University of Amsterdam, Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism F5-171, Meibergdreef 9, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands (e-mail: e.fliers@amc.uva.nl).


Neuroendocrine research has altered the traditional perspective of white adipose tissue (WAT) as a passive store of triglycerides. In addition to fatty acids, WAT produces many hormones and can therefore be designated as a traditional endocrine gland actively participating in the integrative physiology of fuel and energy metabolism, eating behaviour and the regulation of hormone secretion and sensitivity. WAT is controlled by humoral factors, para- and intracrine factors and by neural regulation. Sympathetic nerve fibres innervate WAT and stimulate lipolysis, leading to the release of glycerol and free fatty acids. In addition, recent research in rats has clearly shown a functional parasympathetic innervation of WAT. There appears to be a distinct somatotopy within the parasympathetic nuclei: separate sets of autonomic neurones in the brain stem innervate either the visceral or the subcutaneous fat compartment. We therefore propose that the central nervous system (CNS) plays a major role in the hitherto unexplained regulation of body fat distribution. Parasympathectomy induces insulin resistance with respect to glucose and fatty acid uptake in the innervated fat depot and has selective effects on local hormone synthesis. Thus, the CNS is involved not only in the regulation of hormone production by WAT, but also in its hormone sensitivity. The developments in this research area are likely to increase our insights in the pathogenesis of metabolic disorders such as hypertriglyceridemia, diabetes mellitus type 2 and lipodystrophy syndromes.