The adipocyte as a secretory organ: mechanisms of vesicle transport and secretory pathways

Recent Prog Horm Res. 2001;56:329-58. doi: 10.1210/rp.56.1.329.


Obesity is a common problem in western society that is directly linked to several disease processes and is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Adipocytes--the primary site for energy storage (as triglycerides) and release--were long suspected to have an active role in regulating body weight homeostasis and energy balance. As a result, many studies have focused on finding abnormalities in adipocyte physiology and metabolism. An ever-increasing body of evidence indicates that, in addition to serving as a repository for energy reserves, adipocytes secrete a myriad of factors that comprise a complex network of endocrine, autocrine, and paracrine signals. Very little is known regarding the molecular mechanisms utilized by the adipocyte in regulating the biosynthesis and exocytosis of these secreted products. In order to gain a better understanding of these processes, we have examined the two classical secretory pathways: regulated and constitutive. Using leptin as a model adipocyte-secretory protein, this review focuses primarily on the latter pathway. This includes regulation of leptin synthesis and secretion by insulin and glucocorticoids and, more recently, the finding that the orexigenic neuropeptide, melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH), can stimulate leptin synthesis and secretion. This chapter also incorporates new data describing the partial purification and effect of insulin on leptin-containing vesicles in rat adipocytes. These data indicate that the majority of leptin trafficking occurs via a constitutive secretory pathway and that the primary acute insulin effect on leptin secretion is to increase leptin protein content. In addition, we describe the identification and characterization of the vesicle-associated protein, pantophysin, which may play a multifunctional role in vesicle biogenesis and transport.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brefeldin A / pharmacology
  • Carrier Proteins / physiology
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamic Hormones / metabolism
  • Insulin / pharmacology
  • Leptin / biosynthesis
  • Leptin / metabolism
  • Melanins / metabolism
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Pituitary Hormones / metabolism
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Protein Transport
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Cell Surface*
  • Receptors, Leptin
  • Signal Transduction
  • Synaptophysin
  • Temperature


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Hypothalamic Hormones
  • Insulin
  • Leptin
  • Melanins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Pituitary Hormones
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, Leptin
  • Synaptophysin
  • Sypl1 protein, rat
  • SYPL1 protein, human
  • Brefeldin A
  • melanin-concentrating hormone
  • Dexamethasone