1. The regulation of lipolysis was studied in 14 upper-body obese women aged 26–55 years. Isolated subcutaneous adipocytes from the abdominal region were examined before and after an 8 to 12-week-long weight reduction programme, during which the mean body mass index (kg/m2) of the group was reduced from 36.4 ± 0.9 to 30.3 ± 1.0.

2. Fat cell volume was reduced from 891 ± 39 to 655 ± 45 pl. The sensitivity to noradrenaline stimulation of lipolysis in vitro increased fivefold after weight reduction. A corresponding increase in sensitivity was found with the β2-selective adrenoceptor agonist terbutaline. However, the number of β2-adrenoceptor binding sites as assessed by radioligand binding with 125I-labelled cyanopindolol was not changed. No changes were observed when dobutamine (a β1-selective adrenoceptor agonist) and clonidine (an α2-adrenoceptor agonist) were used.

3. The basal lipolysis rates decreased by about 50% after weight reduction and the maximum enzyme activity of hormone-sensitive lipase was also reduced by almost 50%.

4. Plasma concentrations of insulin, noradrenaline and total testosterone decreased and sex hormone-binding globulin increased after weight reduction. Calculated apparent free testosterone levels decreased by more than 40% after weight reduction.

5. In conclusion, weight reduction leads to increased efficiency of adipocyte lipolysis with decreased resting lipolysis rate but increased sensitivity to stimulation by catecholamines, which may be attributed to a decreased activity of hormone-sensitive lipase and an increased sensitivity of β2-adrenoceptors. Changes in circulating levels of catecholamines, insulin and testosterone may play a role in these modifications of adipocyte function. The increased lipolytic efficiency may be of importance for amelioration of the metabolic complications of obesity that are observed after weight reduction.

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