The function of glucocorticoids in the differentiation of porcine preadipocytes was examined. Stromal-vascular cell cultures (containing preadipocytes) derived from adipose tissue of the perirenal, ham and shoulder regions of neonatal pigs were incubated in the presence of hydrocortisone at 0 to 100 ng/ml medium. Perirenal cells did not respond to hydrocortisone with an increase in enzyme expression, nor did they demonstrate growth characteristics similar to those of cultures derived from the ham or shoulder. Cultures from the shoulder and ham regions demonstrated dose-responsive increases in enzymatic expression to hydrocortisone. Enzymatic responses by cultures derived from the ham region were lower than responses by cultures from the shoulder region as measured by changes in the activities of sn-glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase and lipoprotein lipase. Addition of insulin to the medium did not produce a synergistic effect with glucocorticoid on differentiation as determined by these enzymatic parameters. However, [14C]glucose metabolism by the cells in culture was synergistically increased by insulin and glucocorticoid supplementation of the medium. The ability of hydrocortisone to induce differentiation of porcine preadipocytes in vitro suggests that the changes that occur in plasma glucocorticoid concentrations during late gestation may play an important role in the rapid development of s.c. adipose tissue in the fetal pig. Secondly, the differences in culture characteristics and hormone responses of cells derived from different locations of adipose tissue formation indicate that differences may exist in the regulation of the growth and development of preadipocytes from different anatomical locations.