The development of metabolic complications of obesity has been associated with the existence of depot-specific differences in the biochemical properties of adipocytes. The aim of this study was to investigate, in severely obese men and women, both gender- and depot-related differences in lipoprotein lipase (LPL) expression and activity, as well as the involvement of endocrine and biometric factors and their dependence on gender and/or fat depot. Morbidly obese, nondiabetic, subjects (9 men and 22 women) aged 41.1+/-1.9 years, with a body mass index (BMI) of 54.7+/-1.7 kg/m(2) who had undergone abdominal surgery were studied. Both expression and activity of LPL and leptin expression were determined in adipose samples from subcutaneous and visceral fat depots. In both men and women, visceral fat showed higher LPL mRNA levels as well as lower ob mRNA levels and tissue leptin content than the subcutaneous one. In both subcutaneous and visceral adipose depots, women exhibited higher protein content, decreased fat cell size and lower LPL activity than men. The gender-related differences found in abdominal fat LPL activity could contribute to the increased risk for developing obesity-associated diseases shown by men, even in morbid obesity, in which the massive fat accumulation could mask these differences. Furthermore, the leptin content of fat depots as well as plasma insulin concentrations appear in our population as the main determinants of adipose tissue LPL activity, adjusted by gender, depot and BMI.