Sex matters: The effects of biological sex on adipose tissue biology and energy metabolism

Redox Biol. 2017 Aug;12:806-813. doi: 10.1016/j.redox.2017.04.012. Epub 2017 Apr 13.


Adipose tissue is a complex and multi-faceted organ. It responds dynamically to internal and external stimuli, depending on the developmental stage and activity of the organism. The most common functional subunits of adipose tissue, white and brown adipocytes, regulate and respond to endocrine processes, which then determine metabolic rate as well as adipose tissue functions. While the molecular aspects of white and brown adipose biology have become clearer in the recent past, much less is known about sex-specific differences in regulation and deposition of adipose tissue, and the specific role of the so-called pink adipocytes during lactation in females. This review summarises the current understanding of adipose tissue dynamics with a focus on sex-specific differences in adipose tissue energy metabolism and endocrine functions, focussing on mammalian model organisms as well as human-derived data. In females, pink adipocytes trans-differentiate during pregnancy from subcutaneous white adipocytes and are responsible for milk-secretion in mammary glands. Overlooking biological sex variation may ultimately hamper clinical treatments of many aspects of metabolic disorders.

Keywords: Adipocytes; Adipokines; Adipose tissue; Body fatness; Energy metabolism; Obesity; Sex-specific differences.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / cytology
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolic Diseases / metabolism*
  • Obesity
  • Sex Characteristics