Obese subjects with excess intra-abdominal fat deposition suffer greater adverse metabolic consequences than do similarly overweight subjects with a predominantly subcutaneous distribution of adiposity. Little is known about the factors regulating the regional distribution of body fat. Leptin is a recently characterized protein secreted by adipocytes that appears to provide a long-term hormonal feedback signal regulating fat mass. No systematic evaluation of site-related differences in human adipocyte leptin expression has been reported to date. Levels of leptin mRNA were examined by quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction in adipocytes isolated from omental and subcutaneous adipose depots of nonobese and mildly obese individuals undergoing elective surgery. In all individuals studied (n = 24), leptin mRNA levels were higher in subcutaneous than in omental adipocytes (P < 0.0001). In contrast, there were no consistent site-specific differences in the expression of glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase mRNA. The subcutaneous-toomental ratio of leptin mRNA expression was markedly higher in women (5.5 ± 1.1-fold) than in men (1.9 ± 0.2-fold) (P < 0.02). A significant relationship between BMI and leptin mRNA expression was demonstrable in the subcutaneous adipocytes of women (P < 0.006). Thus, leptin mRNA appears to be expressed predominantly by subcutaneous adipocytes, particularly in women. These findings suggest a possible role for leptin in the control of adipose tissue distribution and mass.

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