The adipose organ: morphological perspectives of adipose tissues

Proc Nutr Soc. 2001 Aug;60(3):319-28. doi: 10.1079/pns200192.


Anatomically, an organ is defined as a series of tissues which jointly perform one or more interconnected functions. The adipose organ qualifies for this definition as it is made up of two tissue types, the white and brown adipose tissues, which collaborate in partitioning the energy contained in lipids between thermogenesis and the other metabolic functions. In rats and mice the adipose organ consists of several subcutaneous and visceral depots. Some areas of these depots are brown and correspond to brown adipose tissue, while many are white and correspond to white adipose tissue. The number of brown adipocytes found in white areas varies with age, strain of animal and environmental conditions. Brown and white adipocyte precursors are morphologically dissimilar. Together with a rich vascular supply, brown areas receive abundant noradrenergic parenchymal innervation. The gross anatomy and histology of the organ vary considerably in different physiological (cold acclimation, warm acclimation, fasting) and pathological conditions such as obesity; many important genes, such as leptin and uncoupling protein-1, are also expressed very differently in the two cell types. These basic mechanisms should be taken into account when addressing the physiopathology of obesity and its treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization
  • Adipocytes / physiology
  • Adipocytes / ultrastructure*
  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology*
  • Adipose Tissue / cytology
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue / physiology
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / anatomy & histology
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / physiology
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature Regulation
  • Fasting
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Obesity / pathology*
  • Rats
  • Temperature