Adipose tissue lipolysis and lipoprotein lipase (LPL) activity were studied in biopsies from the femoral and abdominal depots in healthy women during early or late menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and the lactation period. When the differences in cell size were taken into account, basal lipolysis was similar in both regions in nonpregnant women. During lactation, however, lipolysis was significantly higher in the femoral region. The lipolytic effect of noradrenaline (10(-6) M) was significantly less in the femoral region in the nonpregnant women and during early pregnancy. However, the lipolytic response was the same in both regions in lactating women. LPL activity was higher in the femoral than in the abdominal region except during lactation when a marked decrease in the LPL activity was seen in the femoral region. The LPL activity in the abdominal region remained unchanged in all patient groups. The results imply that in both nonpregnant and pregnant women lipid assimilation is favored in the femoral depot. During lactation, however, the metabolic pattern changes; the LPL activity decreases and lipid mobilization increases in this depot. These changes are much less pronounced in the abdominal region. Thus, fat cells from different regions show a differential response during pregnancy and lactation. These results suggest that the adipose tissue in different regions may have specialized functions.