A qualitative and quantitative electron microscopic study was performed on rat adipocytes during stimulation of lipolysis by various agents. Scanning electron microscopy of control cells revealed a spherical cell with a textured glycocalyx surface exhibiting small irregular projections. Globular surface evaginations or protrusions measuring 8-18 μM in diameter were seen on cell hemispheres, and there was an average of one protrusion for every two hemispheres examined. Distribution analysis showed that 60 percent of the hemispheres had no protrusions, and 25, 10, and 5 percent of the hemispheres had one, two or three protrusions, respectively. Thin-section and freeze- fracture electron microscopy of the protrusions showed a small triglyceride droplet surrounded by a thin cytoplasmic rim that was continuous with the main cytoplasmic matrix. The glycocalyx coating and plasma membrane extended from the cell surface onto, and over, the protrusion. Scanning microscopy of cells stimulated by lipolytic agents, including epinephrine, adrenocorticotropic hormone, theophylline, and dibutyryl cyclic AMP, revealed a dose-dependent increase in the number of protrusions per cell hemisphere. Maximal concentrations of lipolytic hormones cuase an average 2.5-fold increase in the number of protrusions per hemisphere without changing the average size of the protrusions. Only 40 percent of the stimulated cell hemispheres exhibited no protrusions; over 15 percent of the cells contained three or more; and a number of the protrusions were multilobulate. Insulin prevented the increase in the number of protrusions and the change in distribution caused by the lipolytic hormones but did not prevent the increase caused by theophylline and dibutryl cyclic AMP. The data suggest that the protrusions are a structural feature of the cell and may be related to the lypolytic pathway. These observations may help explain some of the discrepant biochemical data relating to hormonal stimulation of lipolysis.

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