There are marked variations in the activity of lipoprotein lipase (LPL) among adipose depots, particularly in women. Consistent with data on LPL activity, the level of expression of LPL mRNA was lower in omental (OM) than subcutaneous (SQ) adipose tissue of women. To investigate the cellular basis of these differences, OM and SQ adipose tissues obtained at surgery from obese men and women were placed in organ culture for 7 d with varying concentrations of insulin and dexamethasone. Insulin increased levels of LPL mRNA and LPL activity in abdominal SQ but not OM adipose tissue. Dexamethasone also increased LPL mRNA and LPL activity, and these effects were more marked in the OM adipose tissue, particularly in men. When insulin and dexamethasone were added together, synergistic increases in LPL activity were seen in both depots, and this was in part explained at the level of LPL mRNA. The SQ depot was more sensitive to the effects of submaximal doses of dexamethasone in the presence of insulin. The maximum activity of LPL induced by insulin or insulin plus dexamethasone was higher in the SQ than in the OM depot of women, and this was associated with higher levels of LPL mRNA. Rates of LPL synthesis paralleled LPL mRNA levels. These data show that insulin and glucocorticoids influence human adipose tissue LPL activity at the level of LPL gene expression, as well as posttranslationally, and that responsiveness to these hormonal effects is dependent on adipose depot and gender.