In the obese state, enlarged adipose cells display an altered gene-expression profile and metabolic capacity. The aim of this study was to gain insight into their secretory function, by assessing two secreted proteins, leptin and angiotensinogen, in adipose cells of obese (fa/fa) Zucker rats. A marked and co-ordinate increase in leptin mRNA, gene transcription and promoter activity was observed in obese compared with lean (Fa/fa) rat adipose cells, and this resulted in increased leptin release in culture. Two sets of observations suggest that this effect is due to the fa mutation. First, adipose-cell leptin release was higher in heterozygous (Fa/fa) than in homozygous (Fa/Fa) lean rats. Second, leptin release was not enhanced in enlarged adipose cells of FalFa rats fed a high-fat diet for 15 days. At variance with leptin, angiotensinogen production was not significantly increased in the obese cells. Dexamethasone stimulated both leptin and angiotensinogen release in lean and obese rat adipose cells. The magnitude of leptin stimulation was higher in fa/fa than in Fa/fa rats, whereas angiotensinogen release was increased to the same extent in both genotypes. These observations suggest that leptin production is specifically enhanced in enlarged adipose cells of obese Zucker rats and that cell hypertrophy is not the sole determinant of this feature. Increased leptin production might be related to disruption of leptin signalling by the fa mutation.

Abbreviations used: AGE, angiotensinogen; PAI I, plasminogen activator inhibitor I.

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