• adipocytes;
  • aging;
  • fat pad;
  • rats;
  • stereology


Plantar fat pad (PFP) is a tissue structure that absorbs the initial impact of walking and running and ultimately bears body weight at standing. This study was designed to quantify the histomorphological changes of the PFP in aged rats. The most medial PFP was dissected from the hind feet of young rats (4 months old, n = 6) and aged rats (24 months old, n = 6). Histological structure and cellular senescence of PFP were analyzed stereologically and histomorphometrically. Immunohistochemistry of matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP9) was also performed on PFP tissue sections. Compared with young rats, the thickness of epidermis, dermis and septa of the PFP were significantly reduced in the aged rats. The total volume of adipose tissue in the PFP of aged rats was only about 65% of that in the young rats. The microvascular density and the number of fat pad units (FPU), a cluster of adipocytes enclosed by elastin septa, in the PFP were unchanged in the aged rats. In the aged rats, the number of adipocytes per FPU was reduced but the number of simple adipocyte clusters, without surrounding septa, was increased. The shift of the types of adipocyte clusters in the aged PFP was accompanied by degradation of elastin fibers and increased expression of MMP9. In conclusion, the PFP, particularly the elastic septa, degenerates significantly in aged rats and this may contribute to the pathology of PFP-related diseases.