Evidence has accumulated that specific retinoids impact on developmental and biochemical processes influencing mammalian adiposity including adipogenesis, lipogenesis, adaptive thermogenesis, lipolysis and fatty acid oxidation in tissues. Treatment with retinoic acid, in particular, has been shown to reduce body fat and improve insulin sensitivity in lean and obese rodents by enhancing fat mobilization and energy utilization systemically, in tissues including brown and white adipose tissues, skeletal muscle and the liver. Nevertheless, controversial data have been reported, particularly regarding retinoids' effects on hepatic lipid and lipoprotein metabolism and blood lipid profile. Moreover, the molecular mechanisms underlying retinoid effects on lipid metabolism are complex and remain incompletely understood. Here, we present a brief overview of mammalian lipid metabolism and its control, introduce mechanisms through which retinoids can impact on lipid metabolism, and review reported activities of retinoids on different aspects of lipid metabolism in key tissues, focusing on retinoic acid. Possible implications of this knowledge in the context of the management of obesity and the metabolic syndrome are also addressed. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Retinoid and Lipid Metabolism.
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