Upper-body and lower-body adipocytes respond differently to physiological catecholamines in vitro. It is not known whether this is true in vivo or whether gender differences exist in the regional adipose tissue responses to epinephrine. These studies were therefore conducted to examine free fatty acid (FFA) release ([3H]palmitate) from lower-body (leg), splanchnic, and upper-body adipose tissue in normal-weight adult men (n = 8) and women (n = 7). In response to intravenous epinephrine (10 ng.kg-1.min-1), palmitate release increased (P < 0.01) in both men (168 +/- 10 to 221 +/- 15 mumol/min) and women (177 +/- 12 to 234 +/- 18 mumol/min). Basal leg palmitate release was similar in women and men (16.8 +/- 2.9 and 12.4 +/- 1.3 mumol/min, P = not significant) but doubled (P < 0.01) in response to epinephrine in men and was virtually unchanged in women. Splanchnic palmitate release increased (P < 0.05) in men (n = 6) but not in women (n = 6), whereas nonsplanchnic upper-body palmitate release increased more in women than in men. Upper-body (splanchnic and nonsplanchnic) palmitate release increased (P < 0.05) in both men and women in response to epinephrine. In summary, lower-body adipose tissue FFA release increased in response to epinephrine in men but not women, whereas upper-body palmitate release increased in both groups. These findings are consistent with some in vitro findings and suggest that catecholamine action may play a role in determining gender-based differences in body fat distribution.