Clenbuterol, a beta(2)-adrenergic receptor (beta(2)-AR) selective agonist, has been shown to decrease body fat in animals and can induce apoptosis in adipose tissue in mice. We hypothesized that direct actions of a beta-adrenergic receptor agonist on adipocytes could trigger the observed apoptotic effect. The hypothesis was inspected by investigating the direct effect of clenbuterol on apoptosis, adipogenesis, and lipolysis in vitro using the 3T3-L1 cell line and rat primary adipocytes. Cells were treated with 10(-9) to 10(-5) M clenbuterol depending on the experiments. There was no apoptotic effect of clenbuterol both in 3T3-L1 cells and rat primary adipocytes. Adipogenesis monitored by Oil Red O staining and AdipoRed assay was modestly decreased by clenbuterol treatment (p < 0.05). In fully differentiated primary adipocytes, clenbuterol increased basal lipolysis compared with the control (p < 0.01). In summary, direct stimulation of beta(2)-AR by clenbuterol does not cause apoptosis in adipocytes, despite a direct lipolytic stimulation and attenuation of adipogenesis.