Endurance training helps muscle tissue oxidize lipids and therefore helps conserve glycogen. It was thought interesting to find out if, in addition to this preferential use of fatty acids by muscle tissue, there is an increase in the capacity of adipose tissue to mobilize lipids. So the response to epinephrine of collagenase-isolated fat cells obtained after biopsies of fat performed in the periumbilical region of 10 trained marathon runners (T) and 10 sedentary subjects (S), all males, was studied in vitro. Glycerol release, chosen as adipocyte lipolysis indicator, was measured by bioluminescence. Lipolysis was studied with increased epinephrine concentration. This caused a significant increase in lipolysis only in the T subjects. The dose-response curves were significantly different for T and S subjects at 10(-6) M and above (P less than 0.05). To determine the modification mechanisms observed, lipolysis with isoproterenol and epinephrine plus propranolol were studied. Isoproterenol significantly increased lipolysis in both groups. The dose-response curves were significantly different at 10(-7) M (P less than 0.01) and above. In both groups, epinephrine plus propranolol significantly decreased lipolysis without distinction between T and S. It is concluded that in male subjects endurance training increases the sensitivity of subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue to the lipolytic action of epinephrine; this effect seems to be related to an increased response of the beta-adrenergic pathways.