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In this review we discuss the role of developmental transcription factors in adipose tissue biology with a focus on how these developmental genes may contribute to regional variation in adipose tissue distribution and function. Regional, depot-specific, differences in lipid handling and signalling (lipolysis, lipid storage and adipokine/lipokine signalling) are important determinants of metabolic health. At a cellular level, preadipocytes removed from their original depot and cultured in vitro retain depot-specific functional properties, implying that these are intrinsic to the cells and not a function of their environment in situ. High throughput screening has identified a number of developmental transcription factors involved in embryological development, including members of the Homeobox and T-Box gene families, that are strongly differentially expressed between regional white adipose tissue depots and also between brown and white adipose tissue. However, the significance of depot-specific developmental signatures remains unclear. Developmental transcription factors determine body patterning during embryogenesis. The divergent developmental origins of regional adipose tissue depots may explain their differing functional characteristics. There is evidence from human genetics that developmental genes determine adipose tissue distribution: in GWAS studies a number of developmental genes have been identified as being correlated with anthropometric measures of adiposity and fat distribution. Additionally, compelling functional studies have recently implicated developmental genes in both white adipogenesis and the so-called 'browning' of white adipose tissue. Understanding the genetic and developmental pathways in adipose tissue may help uncover novel ways to intervene with the function of adipose tissue in order to promote health.

Original publication




Journal article


Biochim Biophys Acta

Publication Date





686 - 696


Adipose tissue, Body fat distribution, Development, Transcription factor, Adipokines, Adipose Tissue, Brown, Adipose Tissue, White, Adiposity, Animals, Energy Metabolism, Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental, Humans, Lipogenesis, Lipolysis, Morphogenesis, Signal Transduction, Transcription Factors