The nuclear receptor family of PPARs was named for the ability of the original member to induce hepatic peroxisome proliferation in mice in response to xenobiotic stimuli. However, studies on the action and structure of the 3 human PPAR isotypes (PPARalpha, PPARdelta, and PPARgamma) suggest that these moieties are intimately involved in nutrient sensing and the regulation of carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. PPARalpha and PPARdelta appear primarily to stimulate oxidative lipid metabolism, while PPARgamma is principally involved in the cellular assimilation of lipids via anabolic pathways. Our understanding of the functions of PPARgamma in humans has been increased by the clinical use of potent agonists and by the discovery of both rare and severely deleterious dominant-negative mutations leading to a stereotyped syndrome of partial lipodystrophy and severe insulin resistance, as well as more common sequence variants with a much smaller impact on receptor function. These may nevertheless have much greater significance for the public health burden of metabolic disease. This Review will focus on the role of PPARgamma in human physiology, with specific reference to clinical pharmacological studies, and analysis of PPARG gene variants in the abnormal lipid and carbohydrate metabolism of the metabolic syndrome.