Expression of mRNA for beta 1-, beta 2-, and beta 3-adrenergic receptors (beta 1-, beta 2-, and beta 3-AR) was investigated in human tissues. beta 1- and beta 2-AR mRNA distribution correlated with that of the cognate receptors established by pharmacological studies. beta 3-AR transcripts were abundant in infant perirenal brown adipose tissue, characterized by the presence of uncoupling protein (UCP) mRNA. In adult whole adipose tissues, beta 3-AR mRNA levels were high in deep deposits such as perirenal and omental, and lower in subcutaneous. In these deposits, UCP mRNA levels paralleled those of beta 3-AR. However, isolated omental and subcutaneous adipose cells, enriched in white adipocytes, expressed beta 3-AR but no UCP transcripts. beta 3-AR mRNA was highly expressed in gallbladder, and to a much lower extent in colon, independently of UCP mRNA. Quadriceps or abdominal muscles, heart, liver, lung, kidney, thyroid, and lymphocytes did not express intrinsic beta 3-AR mRNA. This study demonstrates that substantial amounts of brown adipocytes exist throughout life in adipose deposits, which are generally classified as white. These deposits are the main sites of beta 3-AR expression, which also occurs in gallbladder and colon. beta 3-AR may thus be involved in the control of lipid metabolism, possibly from fat assimilation in the digestive tract, to triglyceride storage and mobilization in adipose tissues.