Several investigations have suggested that body fat distribution is influenced by nonpathologic variations in the responsiveness to cortisol. Genetic variations in the glucocorticoid receptor (GRL) could therefore potentially have an impact on the level of abdominal fat. A restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) has previously been detected with the BclI restriction enzyme in the GRL gene identifying two alleles with fragment lengths of 4.5 and 2.3 kb. This study investigates whether abdominal fat areas measured by computerized tomography (CT) are associated with this polymorphism in 152 middle-aged men and women. The less frequent 4.5-kb allele was found to be associated with a higher abdominal visceral fat (AVF) area independently of total body fat mass (4.5/4.5 vs. 2.3/2.3 kb genotype; men: 190.7 +/- 30.1 vs. 150.7 +/- 33.3 cm2, p = 0.04; women: 132.7 +/- 37.3 vs. 101.3 +/- 34.5 cm2, p = 0.06). However, the association with AVF was seen only in subjects of the lower tertile of the percent body fat level. In these subjects, the polymorphism was found to account for 41% (p = 0.003) and 35% (p = 0.007), in men and women, respectively, of the total variance in AVF area. The consistent association between the GRL polymorphism detected with BclI and AVF area suggests that this gene or a locus in linkage disequilibrium with the BclI restriction site may contribute to the accumulation of AVF.