The sympathetic nervous system in white adipose tissue regulation

Proc Nutr Soc. 2001 Aug;60(3):357-64. doi: 10.1079/pns2001101.


Sympathetic stimulation has long been recognized to mobilise fatty acids from white adipose tissue. However, it is now apparent that adipose tissue is not only concerned with energy storage as fat, but is a major endocrine and secretory organ. This change has resulted from the identification of leptin as a hormone of energy balance secreted by white adipose tissue. The sympathetic system is a key regulator of leptin production in white fat. Sympathomimetic amines, cold exposure or fasting (which lead to sympathetic stimulation of white fat), decrease ob gene expression in the tissue and leptin production. On the other hand, sympathetic blockade often increases circulating leptin and ob gene expression, and it is postulated that the sympathetic system has a tonic inhibitory action on leptin synthesis. In rodents this action is through stimulation of, beta3-adrenoceptors. The adrenal medulla (as opposed to the direct sympathetic innervation) has been thought to play only a minor role in the catecholaminergic regulation of white adipose tissue. However, in rodents responses of the leptin system to adrenergic blockade vary with the method used. Changes in leptin and ob gene expression are considerably less using methods of blockade that only effect the terminal adrenergic innervation, rather than medullary secretions as well. Stimulation of the leptin system increases sympathetic activity and hence metabolic activity in many tissues. As well as leptin, other (but not all) secretions from white adipose tissue are subject to sympathetic regulation. In obesity the sympathetic sensitivity of adipose tissue is reduced and this factor may underlie the dysregulation of leptin production and other adipose tissue secretions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / innervation
  • Adipose Tissue / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Humans
  • Leptin / biosynthesis*
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Rodentia
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology*


  • Leptin