Even for students of anatomy and histology, we seldom see adipose tissue as a varied environment. More often than not, the scene we conjure up is one of homogeneity. Filled to capacity with lipids, fat cells appear pale and opaque. They butt against each other like balloons pressed against the side of a glass wall. In leaner individuals, however, the in vivo scene can be quite different. It's one of continual growth and renewal. Without the pressure to store excessive amounts of lipids, younger adipocytes don't immediately grow to the size of their older counterparts.

Far from inert, fat is an active environment flush with capillaries and packed with cells. The primary residents, fat cells or "adipocytes," respond and adapt dynamically to the supply of energy and nutrients in the body. They can undergo dramatic physical and functional changes within their lifespan. The following concepts and storyboards explore the livelihood of adipocytes and their role in obesity.


When there is an abundance of energy, adipocytes begin to store this energy in the form of fatty deposits. The more they store, the larger they grow. Normally, these stores are released intermittently depending on the needs of the body. However, when there is constant excess of energy, fat cells remain enlarged. Over time, this leads to chronic inflammatory responses.

Inflammatory pathways

Something to ponder. We tend to think of obesity as simply an input and output imbalance. We eat too much, we store too much. However, at the cellular level, over-eating results hypertrophy of adipocytes. This stress results in a cascade of inflammatory and immunological responses with significant long-term consequences.

Concept art and storyboards - Geoffrey L Cheung

Media - Adobe Photoshop

Agency - Anatomical Travelogue, The Visual MD

Collaborators - Project management: Laura Gibson, Erin Daniel.