The "discovery" of lipid droplets: A brief history of organelles hidden in plain sight

Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Cell Biol Lipids. 2020 Sep;1865(9):158762. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2020.158762. Epub 2020 Jul 1.


Mammalian lipid droplets (LDs), first described as early as the 1880s, were virtually ignored for more than 100 years. Between 1991 and the early 2000s, however, a series of discoveries and conceptual breakthroughs led to a resurgent interest in obesity as a disease, in the metabolism of intracellular triacylglycerol (TAG), and in the physical locations of LDs as cellular structures with their associated proteins. Insights included the recognition that obesity underlies major chronic diseases, that appetite is hormonally controlled, that hepatic steatosis is not a benign finding, and that diabetes might fundamentally be a disorder of lipid metabolism. In this brief review, I describe the metamorphosis of LDs from overlooked globs of stored fat to dynamic organelles that control insulin resistance, mitochondrial oxidation, and viral replication.

Keywords: Diabetes; Hormone-sensitive lipase; Neutral lipid storage disease; Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; Obesity; Triacylglycerol.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Ichthyosiform Erythroderma, Congenital / history
  • Ichthyosiform Erythroderma, Congenital / metabolism
  • Lipid Droplets*
  • Lipid Metabolism, Inborn Errors / history
  • Lipid Metabolism, Inborn Errors / metabolism
  • Metabolic Diseases / history
  • Metabolic Diseases / metabolism
  • Muscular Diseases / history
  • Muscular Diseases / metabolism
  • Obesity / history
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Perilipin-1 / metabolism
  • Plants / metabolism


  • Perilipin-1

Supplementary concepts

  • Chanarin-Dorfman Syndrome