Leucine is catabolized to ketone bodies in adipose tissue, but the contribution of this output to overall ketone metabolism is not known. The intent of the present study was to determine the capacity of different adipose tissues to synthesize ketone bodies from leucine. The amino acid was readily converted into acetoacetate in epididymal, perirenal, and omental fat tissues. In rats fed ad libitum, the rate of acetoacetate synthesis in omental fat (about 2 mumol g tissue-1h-1) was at least 8 times higher than in epididymal or perirenal fat. In omental fat, the rates of acetoacetate formation from alpha-ketoisocaproic acid were 47-55% lower than from leucine at all concentrations examined. There was no significant synthesis of beta-hydroxybutyrate from leucine or alpha-ketoisocaproic acid. After oxidative decarboxylation, a greater proportion (about three-fourths) of leucine in omental fat was metabolized to acetoacetate than to CO2 production through the Krebs cycle. Although addition of glucose, pyruvate, or carnitine did not affect the production of acetoacetate, fasting for 24 h stimulated acetoacetate synthesis from leucine and alpha-ketoisocaproic acid in omental fat. The high rate of leucine conversion to acetoacetate in omental fat was related to high activities of leucine aminotransferase and branched-chain alpha-keto acid dehydrogenase. Moreover, protein content and cytochrome c oxidase activity of omental mitochondria were, respectively, 13 and 12 times higher than in epididymal mitochondria. In contrast, fat content of epididymal adipose tissue was 21 times that of omental adipose tissue. Epididymal depot consisted of 2.0% protein and 75.8% fat, whereas omental depot contains 17.2% protein and 3.6% fat, resembling that of liver and muscle. The results suggest that the high ketogenic capacity of omental fat stems in part from an augmented mitochondrial mass and high activity of branched-chain alpha-keto acid dehydrogenase.