Causes and mechanisms of adipocyte enlargement and adipose expansion

Obes Rev. 2018 Mar;19(3):406-420. doi: 10.1111/obr.12646. Epub 2017 Dec 15.


Adipose tissue plays a significant role in whole body energy homeostasis. Obesity-associated diabetes, fatty liver and metabolic syndrome are closely linked to adipose stress and dysfunction. Genetic predisposition, overeating and physical inactivity influence the expansion of adipose tissues. Under conditions of constant energy surplus, adipocytes become hypertrophic and adipose tissues undergo hyperplasia so as to increase their lipid storage capacity, thereby keeping circulating blood glucose and fatty acids below toxic levels. Nonetheless, adipocytes have a saturation point where they lose capacity to store more lipids. At this stage, when adipocytes are fully lipid-engorged, they express stress signals. Adipose depots (particularly visceral compartments) from obese individuals with a severe metabolic phenotype are characterized by the high proportion of hypertrophic adipocytes. This review focuses on the mechanisms of adipocyte enlargement in relation to adipose fatty acid and cholesterol metabolism, and considers how this may be related to adipose dysfunction.

Keywords: Adipose tissue; cellular hypertrophy; hyperplasia; insulin resistance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / cytology
  • Adipocytes / pathology*
  • Adipocytes / physiology*
  • Adiposity
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Overnutrition / complications
  • Overnutrition / metabolism
  • Overnutrition / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Physiological


  • Fatty Acids
  • Inflammation Mediators