Epicardial adipose tissue is an unusual visceral fat depot with anatomical and functional contiguity to the myocardium and coronary arteries. Under physiological conditions, epicardial adipose tissue displays biochemical, mechanical and thermogenic cardioprotective properties. Under pathological circumstances, epicardial fat can locally affect the heart and coronary arteries through vasocrine or paracrine secretion of proinflammatory cytokines. What influences this equilibrium remains unclear. Improved local vascularization, weight loss, and targeted pharmaceutical interventions could help to return epicardial fat to its physiological role. This review focuses on the emerging physiological and pathophysiological aspects of the epicardial fat and its numerous and innovative clinical applications. Particular emphasis is placed on the paracrine/endocrine properties of epicardial fat and its role in the development and progression of atherosclerosis.
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