In order to study the effects of heredity and of physical training on adipose tissue morphology and metabolism, 15 pairs of monozygotic twins (MZ) (six males and nine females), aged from 16 to 24 years, weighing 56.2 +/- 9.1 kg and with 13.9 +/- 8.2 percent body fat, were submitted to a biopsy of adipose tissue in the suprailiac region. In addition, eight pairs of twins (four male and four female) took part in a 20-week ergocycle training program, five days a week, 40 min a day, at 80 percent of their maximal heart rate. Adipocyte diameter (AD) was assessed on collagenase isolated fat cells. Basal (BL), epinephrine submaximal (10(-5) M) (ESML) and epinephrine maximal stimulated lipolysis (10(-4) M) (EML) were determined on isolated fat cells. Intraclass correlation coefficients indicated significant intrapair resemblance before training for all fat morphological and metabolic indicators (0.78 less than or equal to ri less than or equal to 0.93). Training significantly increased VO2 max (pre: 44.7 +/- 7.6 (ml/kg) vs post: 50.8 +/- 5.0; P less than or equal to 0.001). No training effect was found in percent body fat and AD. Training significantly increased BL, ESML, and EML (P less than or equal to 0.01). Moreover, twins of the same MZ pair yielded identical responses in ESML and EML with training. Intraclass coefficients for the magnitude of change in activity over pretraining values reached 0.84 and 0.90 respectively. Apparently a genetically determined response to training could not be found for BL. These results show that training per se has an effect on adipose tissue lipolysis beyond variation in fatness. Furthermore, sensitivity of stimulated lipolysis to training appears to have a genetic basis.