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Sex differences in human adipose tissues – the biology of pear shape

Kalypso Karastergiou1, Steven R Smith2, Andrew S Greenberg3 and Susan K Fried14*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Section of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Nutrition, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

2 Diabetes and Obesity Research Center, Sanford/Burnham Medical Research Institute at Lake Nona, Orlando, FL and Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes, Florida Hospital, Sanford/Burnham Medical Research Institute at Lake Nona, Orlando, FL, USA

3 Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston, MA, USA

4 Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Nutrition, Department of Medicine, Boston University, School of Medicine, 650 Albany St, EBRC-810, Boston, MA, 02118, USA

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Biology of Sex Differences 2012, 3:13  doi:10.1186/2042-6410-3-13

Published: 31 May 2012


Women have more body fat than men, but in contrast to the deleterious metabolic consequences of the central obesity typical of men, the pear-shaped body fat distribution of many women is associated with lower cardiometabolic risk. To understand the mechanisms regulating adiposity and adipose tissue distribution in men and women, significant research attention has focused on comparing adipocyte morphological and metabolic properties, as well as the capacity of preadipocytes derived from different depots for proliferation and differentiation. Available evidence points to possible intrinsic, cell autonomous differences in preadipocytes and adipocytes, as well as modulatory roles for sex steroids, the microenvironment within each adipose tissue, and developmental factors. Gluteal-femoral adipose tissues of women may simply provide a safe lipid reservoir for excess energy, or they may directly regulate systemic metabolism via release of metabolic products or adipokines. We provide a brief overview of the relationship of fat distribution to metabolic health in men and women, and then focus on mechanisms underlying sex differences in adipose tissue biology.

Adipocyte; Fat distribution; Lipolysis; Fatty acid uptake