What’s New in Obesity: Current Understanding of Adipose Tissue Morphology

  • Jules Hirsch
  • Irving M. Faust
  • Patricia R. Johnson


Obesity is, by definition, an increase in the amount of adipose tissue. Clearly, the additional mass of fat in obesity must be stored in adipose tissue consisting of either large adipocytes or more adipocytes, or in tissue with some mixture of cellular hyperplasia and hypertrophy. This obvious fact was brought to the attention of clinicians and investigators over two decades ago by the work of Reh (1953) and Bjmulf (1959). Yet, the meaningfulness of the cellular morphology of adipose tissue in either the pathogenesis or perpetuation of obesity remains uncertain. On the one hand, the cellular disposition of triglyceride in the unilocular adipocyte of white adipose tissue may be a totally passive event with no consequences for metabolism or energy regulation. At the other extreme, it could be that adipocyte size and number are controlling elements in a caloric- intake-storage-energy-output system and thus are of central concern to our understanding of obesity. The latter possibility, which might be called the “adipocyte theory of obesity,” deserves thorough investigation, since there has been amassed a wealth of data to suggest that the adipocyte is metabolically highly active and very sensitive to hormones. It is the purpose of this review to consider recent findings on adipose cellularity, chiefly from work with animals, but also with human subjects, in order to evaluate the “adipocyte theory of obesity.”


Adipose Tissue Cell Size Collagenase Digestion Adipocyte Size Average Cell Size 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jules Hirsch
    • 1
  • Irving M. Faust
    • 1
  • Patricia R. Johnson
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Human Behavior and MetabolismThe Rockefeller UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyVassar CollegePoughkeepsieUSA

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