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Structural and biochemical characteristics of various white adipose tissue depots


Correspondence: Prof Dr Z. Kmiec, Department of Histology, Medical Faculty, Medical University of Gdansk, M. Sklodowska-Curie 3a, 80-210 Gdansk, Poland.



It is now widely accepted that white adipose tissue (WAT) is not merely a fuel storage organ, but also a key component of metabolic homoeostatic mechanisms. Apart from its major role in lipid and glucose metabolism, adipose tissue is also involved in a wide array of other biological processes. The hormones and adipokines, as well as other biologically active agents released from fat cells, affect many physiological and pathological processes. WAT is neither uniform nor inflexible because it undergoes constant remodelling, adapting the size and number of adipocytes to changes in nutrients’ availability and hormonal milieu. Fat depots from different areas of the body display distinct structural and functional properties and have disparate roles in pathology. The two major types of WAT are visceral fat, localized within the abdominal cavity and mediastinum, and subcutaneous fat in the hypodermis. Visceral obesity correlates with increased risk of insulin resistance and cardiovascular diseases, while increase of subcutaneous fat is associated with favourable plasma lipid profiles. Visceral adipocytes show higher lipogenic and lipolytic activities and produce more pro-inflammatory cytokines, while subcutaneous adipocytes are the main source of leptin and adiponectin. Moreover, adipose tissue associated with skeletal muscles (intramyocellular and intermuscular fat) and with the epicardium is believed to provide fuels for skeletal and cardiac muscle contraction. However, increased mass of either epicardial or intermuscular adipose tissue correlates with cardiovascular risk, while the presence of the intramyocellular fat is a risk factor for the development of insulin resistance. This review summarizes results of mainly human studies related to the differential characteristics of various WAT depots.