Human epicardial adipose tissue: a review

Am Heart J. 2007 Jun;153(6):907-17. doi: 10.1016/j.ahj.2007.03.019.


We discuss the anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology of epicardial adipose tissue and its relationship to coronary atherosclerosis. Epicardial fat stores triglyceride to supply free fatty acids for myocardial energy production and produces adipokines. It shares a common embryological origin with mesenteric and omental fat. Like visceral abdominal fat, epicardial fat thickness, measured by echocardiography, is increased in obesity. Epicardial fat could influence coronary atherogenesis and myocardial function because there is no fibrous fascial layer to impede diffusion of free fatty acids and adipokines between it and the underlying vessel wall as well as the myocardium. Segments of coronary arteries lacking epicardial fat or separated from it by a bridge of myocardial tissue are protected against the development of atherosclerosis in those segments. However, when epicardial fat is totally absent in congenital generalized lipodystrophy, coronary atherosclerosis can still occur. Macrophages are more numerous and densely packed in the periadventitial fat of human atherosclerotic coronary arteries with lipid cores than in that of fibrocalcific or nonatherosclerotic coronary arteries. In obese patients with multiple cardiovascular risk factors, epicardial fat around atheromatous coronaries secretes several proinflammatory cytokines and is infiltrated by macrophages, lymphocytes, and basophils. Epicardial adipokine expression in obesity without coronary atherosclerosis has not been determined. In nonobese patients, epicardial fat around atheromatous coronary arteries expresses proinflammatory cytokines but produces either less adiponectin, a vasoprotective adipokine, than fat around nonatheromatous coronaries or a similar amount compared with thoracic subcutaneous fat. Further studies should be done to test the hypothesis that adipokines produced by and released from human epicardial adipose tissue might contribute locally to the pathogenesis of coronary atherosclerosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adiponectin / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue / diagnostic imaging
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Adipose Tissue / pathology
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Coronary Artery Disease / etiology*
  • Coronary Artery Disease / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Pericardium / diagnostic imaging
  • Pericardium / metabolism*
  • Pericardium / pathology
  • Radiography


  • Adiponectin