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Adipocyte and Cell Biology

Abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue cellularity in men and women



Differences in subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue (SAT) fat cell size and number (cellularity) are linked to insulin resistance. Men are generally more insulin resistant than women but it is unknown whether there is a gender dimorphism in SAT cellularity. The objective was to determine SAT cellularity and its relationship to insulin sensitivity in men and women.


In a cohort study performed at an outpatient academic clinic in Sweden, 798 women and 306 men were included. Estimated SAT mass (ESAT) was derived from measures of dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and a formula. SAT biopsies were obtained to measure mean fat cell size; SAT adipocyte number was obtained by dividing ESAT with mean fat cell weight. Fat cell size was also compared with level of insulin sensitivity in vivo.


Over the entire range of body mass index (BMI) both fat cell size and number correlated positively with ESAT in either sex. On average, fat cell size was larger in men than in women, which was driven by significantly larger fat cells in non-obese men compared with non-obese women; no gender effect on fat cell size was seen in obese subjects. For all subjects fat cell number was larger in women than men, which was driven by a gender effect among non-obese individuals (P<0.0001). The relationship between fat cell size and insulin resistance was significant in both genders (P<0.0001) but steeper in men than in women (F=19, P<0.0001).


Although both fat cell size and number determine SAT mass, adipocyte number contributes more and size less in women than in men and this is most evident in non-obese subjects. Over the entire BMI range, fat cell size contributes stronger to insulin resistance in men.

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We thank Katarina Hertel, Britt-Marie Leijonhufvud and Yvonne Widlund for performing clinical examinations and technicians Elisabeth Dungner, Eva Sjölin and Kerstin Wåhlen for their measures of fat cell diameter throughout the study. This work was supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council, The Swedish Diabetes Foundation, Center for Innovative Medicine, the Diabetes Theme Center at Karolinska Institutet, the Tore Nilsson Foundation, the Stockholm County Council and the Novo Nordisk Foundation including the Tripartite Immuno-metabolism Consortium (TrIC) Grant Number NNF15CC0018486 and the MSAM consortium NNF15SA0018346.

Author contributions

PA conceived the study, collected all the data, wrote the first version of the manuscript and is the guarantor of the data. EA, MR, DEH and DPA generated data and prepared figures/tables. EA; MR, DPA and PA, analyzed data. All authors read and contributed to the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to P Arner.

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Andersson, D., Arner, E., Hogling, D. et al. Abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue cellularity in men and women. Int J Obes 41, 1564–1569 (2017).

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