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Sympathetic and parasympathetic innervation of adipose tissue: metabolic implications

Romijn, Johannes Aa; Fliers, Ericb

Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care: July 2005 - Volume 8 - Issue 4 - p 440–444
doi: 10.1097/01.mco.0000172586.09762.55

Purpose of review Adipose tissue is of fundamental importance for the integrative physiology of the body by serving metabolic and endocrine functions. The purpose of this review is to evaluate the functions of the autonomic innervation of adipose tissue.

Recent findings Different lines of evidence from studies on the sympathetic or parasympathetic innervation of adipose tissue have indicated that the autonomic nervous system modulates the fundamental properties of adipose tissue function and biology at the cellular and molecular level. This is reflected in the modulation of lipolysis/lipogenesis, local insulin sensitivity of glucose and fatty acid uptake, the expression levels of several adipokines in adipose tissue, and the modulation of fat cell number. In general, the function of the sympathetic nervous system can be described in terms of catabolism, whereas the function of the parasympathetic system can be described as anabolic.

Summary Innervation by autonomic nerves modulates glucose and fat metabolism in adipose tissue. It is very tempting to speculate on the effects of shifts in the balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic activity in adipose tissue in (patho)physiological conditions, such as lipodystrophy, type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia and other insulin-resistant states.

aDepartment of Endocrinology, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands

bAcademic Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Correspondence to Johannes A. Romijn, Department of Endocrinology, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands Tel: +31 71 5263082; fax: +31 71 5248136; e-mail:

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.