Hypoxia-signalling pathway PCR arrays were used to examine the integrated response of human adipocytes to low O(2) tension. Incubation of adipocytes in 1% O(2) for 24h resulted in no change in the expression of 63 of the 84 genes on the arrays, a reduction in expression of 9 genes (including uncoupling protein 2) and increased expression of 12 genes. Substantial increases (>10-fold) in leptin, angiopoietin-like protein 4, VEGF and GLUT-1 mRNA levels were observed. The expression of one gene, metallothionein-3 (MT-3), was dramatically (>600-fold) and rapidly (by 60 min) increased by hypoxia. MT-3 gene expression was also substantially induced by hypoxia mimetics (CoCl(2), desferrioxamine, dimethyloxalylglycine), indicating transcriptional regulation through HIF-1. Hypoxia additionally induced MT-3 expression in preadipocytes, and MT-3 mRNA was detected in human (obese) subcutaneous and omental adipose tissue. MT-3 is a highly hypoxia-inducible gene in human adipocytes; the protein may protect adipocytes from hypoxic damage.