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Exp Mol Med. 2016 Mar 11;48:e215. doi: 10.1038/emm.2016.5.

Heterogeneity of white adipose tissue: molecular basis and clinical implications.

Kwok KH1,2, Lam KS1,2,3, Xu A1,2,3,4.

Author information

State Key Laboratory of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
Department of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
Research Centre for Heart, Brain, Hormones and Healthy Aging, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.


Adipose tissue is a highly heterogeneous endocrine organ. The heterogeneity among different anatomical depots stems from their intrinsic differences in cellular and physiological properties, including developmental origin, adipogenic and proliferative capacity, glucose and lipid metabolism, insulin sensitivity, hormonal control, thermogenic ability and vascularization. Additional factors that influence adipose tissue heterogeneity are genetic predisposition, environment, gender and age. Under obese condition, these depot-specific differences translate into specific fat distribution patterns, which are closely associated with differential cardiometabolic risks. For instance, individuals with central obesity are more susceptible to developing diabetes and cardiovascular complications, whereas those with peripheral obesity are more metabolically healthy. This review summarizes the clinical and mechanistic evidence for the depot-specific differences that give rise to different metabolic consequences, and provides therapeutic insights for targeted treatment of obesity.

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