The outer mitochondrial membrane enzyme carnitine palmitoyltransferase I (CPT I) represents the initial and regulated step in the β-oxidation of fatty acids. It exists in at least two isoforms, denoted L (liver) and M (muscle) types, with very different kinetic properties and sensitivities to malonyl-CoA. Here we have examined the relative expression of the CPT I isoforms in two different models of adipocyte differentiation and in a number of rat tissues. Adipocytes from mice, hamsters and humans were also evaluated. Primary monolayer cultures of undifferentiated rat preadipocytes expressed solely L-CPT I, but significant levels of M-CPT I emerged after only 3 days of differentiation in vitro; in the mature cell M-CPT I predominated. In sharp contrast, the murine 3T3-L1 preadipocyte expressed essentially exclusively L-CPT I, both in the undifferentiated state and throughout the differentiation process in vitro. This was also true of the mature mouse white fat cell. Fully developed adipocytes from the hamster and human behaved similarly to those of the rat. Thus the mouse white fat cell differs fundamentally from those of the other species examined in terms of its choice of a key regulatory enzyme in fatty acid metabolism. In contrast, brown adipose tissue from all three rodents displayed the same isoform profiles, each expressing overwhelmingly M-CPT I. Northern blot analysis of other rat tissues established L-CPT I as the dominant isoform not only in liver but also in kidney, lung, ovary, spleen, brain, intestine and pancreatic islets. In addition to its primacy in skeletal muscle, heart and fat, M-CPT I was also found to dominate in the testis. The same inter-tissue isoform pattern (with the exception of white fat) was found in the mouse. Taken together, the data bring to light an intriguing divergence between white adipocytes of the mouse and other mammalian species. They also raise a cautionary note that should be considered in the choice of animal model used in further studies of fat cell physiology.

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