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Proc Nutr Soc. 2000 Aug;59(3):441-6.

Sir David Cuthbertson Medal Lecture. Regulation of lipid metabolism in adipose tissue.

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Department of Surgery, Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards, NSW, Australia.


Adipose tissue is a major source of metabolic fuel. This metabolic fuel is stored in the form of triacylglycerol. Lipolysis of triacylglycerol yields non-esterified fatty acids and glycerol. In human subjects in vivo studies of the regulation of lipid metabolism in adipose tissue have been difficult because of the heterogeneous nature of the tissue and lack of a vascular pedicle. In the last decade the methodology of study of adipose tissue has improved with the advent of the anterior abdominal wall adipose tissue preparation technique and microdialysis. These techniques have demonstrated that lipid metabolism in adipose tissue is finely coordinated during feeding and fasting cycles, in order to provide metabolic fuel when required. Lipolysis takes place both in extracellular and intracellular space. The extracellular lipolysis is regulated by lipoprotein lipase and the intracellular lipolysis is regulated by hormone-sensitive lipase. In pathophysiological conditions such as trauma, sepsis and starvation profound changes are induced in the regulation of lipid metabolism. The increased mobilization of lipid fuel is brought about by the differential actions of various counter-regulatory hormones on adipose tissue blood flow and adipose tissue lipolysis through lipoprotein lipase and hormone-sensitive lipase, resulting in increased availability of non-esterified fatty acids as a source of fuel. In recent years, it has been demonstrated that adipose tissue produces various cytokines and these cytokines can have paracrine and endocrine effects. It would appear that adipose tissue has the ability to regulate lipid metabolism locally as well as at distant sites such as liver, muscle and brain. In future, it is likely that the mechanisms that lead to the secondary effects of lipid metabolism on atheroma, immunity and carcinogenesis will be demonstrated.

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