Biological effects of low frequency high intensity ultrasound application on ex vivo human adipose tissue

Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2011 Apr-Jun;24(2):411-22. doi: 10.1177/039463201102400214.


In the present work the effects of a new low frequency, high intensity ultrasound technology on human adipose tissue ex vivo were studied. In particular, we investigated the effects of both external and surgical ultrasound-irradiation (10 min) by evaluating, other than sample weight loss and fat release, also histological architecture alteration as well apoptosis induction. The influence of saline buffer tissue-infiltration on the effects of ultrasound irradiation was also examined. The results suggest that, in our experimental conditions, both transcutaneous and surgical ultrasound exposure caused a significant weight loss and fat release. This effect was more relevant when the ultrasound intensity was set at 100 % (~2.5 W/cm², for external device; ~19-21 W/cm2, for surgical device) compared to 70 % (~1.8 W/cm² for external device; ~13-14 W/cm2 for surgical device). Of note, the effectiveness of ultrasound was much higher when the tissue samples were previously infiltrated with saline buffer, in accordance with the knowledge that ultrasonic waves in aqueous solution better propagate with a consequently more efficient cavitation process. Moreover, the overall effects of ultrasound irradiation did not appear immediately after treatment but persisted over time, being significantly more relevant at 18 h from the end of ultrasound irradiation. Evaluation of histological characteristics of ultrasound-irradiated samples showed a clear alteration of adipose tissue architecture as well a prominent destruction of collagen fibers which were dependent on ultrasound intensity and most relevant in saline buffer-infiltrated samples. The structural changes of collagen bundles present between the lobules of fat cells were confirmed through scanning electron microscopy (SEM) which clearly demonstrated how ultrasound exposure induced a drastic reduction in the compactness of the adipose connective tissue and an irregular arrangement of the fibers with a consequent alteration in the spatial architecture. The analysis of the composition of lipids in the fat released from adipose tissue after ultrasound treatment with surgical device showed, in agreement with the level of adipocyte damage, a significant increase mainly of triglycerides and cholesterol. Finally, ultrasound exposure had been shown to induce apoptosis as shown by the appearance DNA fragmentation. Accordingly, ultrasound treatment led to down-modulation of procaspase-9 expression and an increased level of caspase-3 active form.

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / metabolism
  • Adipocytes / radiation effects*
  • Adipocytes / ultrastructure
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue / radiation effects*
  • Adipose Tissue / ultrastructure
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Apoptosis / radiation effects
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Caspase 9 / metabolism
  • Collagen / radiation effects
  • Collagen / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Lipolysis / radiation effects
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Middle Aged
  • Skin / radiation effects
  • Skin / ultrastructure
  • Time Factors
  • Ultrasonic Therapy*


  • Collagen
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase 9