Adipose tissue depots can exist in close association with other organs, where they assume diverse, often non-traditional functions. In stem cell-rich skin, bone marrow, and mammary glands, adipocytes signal to and modulate organ regeneration and remodeling.
Skin adipocytes and their progenitors signal to hair follicles, promoting epithelial stem cell quiescence and activation, respectively.
Hair follicles signal back to adipocyte progenitors, inducing their expansion and regeneration, as in skin scars. In mammary glands and heart, adipocytes supply lipids to neighboring cells for nutritional and metabolic functions, respectively. Adipose depots adjacent to skeletal structures function to absorb mechanical shock.
Adipose tissue near the surface of skin and intestine senses and responds to bacterial invasion, contributing to the body’s innate immune barrier.
As the recognition of diverse adipose depot functions increases, novel therapeutic approaches centered on tissue-specific adipocytes are likely to emerge for a range of cancers and regenerative, infectious, and autoimmune disorders.