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Proc Nutr Soc. 2009 Nov;68(4):340-9. doi: 10.1017/S0029665109990140. Epub 2009 Aug 24.

Reversible physiological transdifferentiation in the adipose organ.

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Department of Molecular Pathology and Innovative Therapies, University of Ancona (Politecnica delle Marche), 60020 Ancona, Italy.


All mammals are provided with two distinct adipose cells, white and brown adipocytes. White adipocytes store lipids to provide fuel to the organism, allowing intervals between meals. Brown adipocytes use lipids to produce heat. Previous descriptions have implied their localization in distinct sites of the body; however, it has been demonstrated that they are present together in many depots, which has led to the new concept of the adipose organ. In order to explain their coexistence the hypothesis of reversible physiological transdifferentiation has been developed, i.e. they are contained together because they are able to convert, one into the other. In effect, if needed the brown component of the organ could increase at the expense of the white component and vice versa. This plasticity is important because the brown phenotype of the organ is associated with resistance to obesity and its related disorders. A new example of reversible physiological transdifferentiation of adipocytes is offered by the mammary gland during pregnancy, lactation and post-lactation stages. The gravidic hormonal stimulus seems to trigger a transdifferentiation of adipocytes into milk-producing and secreting epithelial glands. In the post-lactation period some of the epithelial cells of the mammary gland seem to transdifferentiate into adipocytes. Recent unpublished results suggest that explanted adipose tissue, as well as explanted isolated mature adipocytes, is able to transdifferentiate into glands with epithelial markers of milk-secreting mammary glands. These findings, if confirmed, seem to suggest new windows into the cell biology frontiers of adipocytes.

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