Estrogen biosynthesis in adipose tissue has assumed great significance in terms of a number of estrogen-related diseases. The biosynthesis of estrogens from C19 steroids is catalyzed by a specific form of cytochrome P450, namely aromatase cytochrome P450 (P450arom; the product of the CYP19 gene). The human CYP19 gene comprises nine coding exons, II-X, and its transcripts are expressed in the ovary, placenta, testes, adipose tissue, and brain. Tissue-specific expression of the CYP19 gene is determined at least in part by the use of tissue-specific promoters, which give rise to transcripts with unique 5'-noncoding termini. Thus, the distal promoter I.1 is responsible for expression uniquely in placenta. On the other hand, the proximal promoter II, which regulates expression via a cAMP-dependent signaling pathway, is responsible for expression in the gonads. Transcripts in breast adipose tissue contain 5'-termini corresponding to expression derived from promoters I.4, II, and I.3, with I.4-specific termini predominating. The latter are derived from promoter I.4, which contains a glucocorticoid response element and an interferon-gamma activation site element and is responsible for expression in the presence of glucocorticoids and members of the class I cytokine family. The object of the present study was to determine the distribution of these various transcripts in adipose tissue from abdomen, buttocks, and thighs of women, as this would provide important clues to the factors regulating aromatase expression in these sites. To achieve this, we employed competitive reverse transcription-PCR to amplify unique 5'-ends of each of the transcripts of the CYP19 gene that are expressed in adipose tissue as well as for the coding region to evaluate total CYP19 gene (P450arom) transcript levels. We observed that exon I.4-specific transcripts were predominantly present in adipose tissue samples obtained from women regardless of the tissue site or the age of the individual. In these tissues, promoter II- and exon I.3-specific transcripts were present in lower copy numbers. We also demonstrated that in these sites total or exon-specific P450arom transcripts levels increased in direct proportion to advancing age and that transcript levels were the highest in buttocks, followed by thighs, and lowest in the abdomen. These results suggest that in normal human adipose tissue, aromatase expression is mainly under local control by a number of cytokines via paracrine and autocrine mechanisms in the presence of systemic glucocorticoids.