Glucocorticoid excess causes visceral obesity and its accompanying insulin resistance, dyslipidemia and hypertension. Glucocorticoids enhance preadipocyte (PA) differentiation and increase their aromatase activity (oestrogen production) and there is regional variability in these PA processes. Therefore, we studied human PAs for the presence of, and any regional or gender differences in, glucocorticoid receptors (GRs). Confluent subcultured human subcutaneous (Sc) and visceral (Vis) PAs from both genders contained GRs as assessed by GR gene expression and specific glucocorticoid (dexamethasone) binding. The dissociation constant was similar to that of other human cells and there was no difference between Sc and Vis sites or between males and females. There was significantly less GR mRNA in Vis PAs compared with Sc PAs in females (P=0.008) but not in males. There was less glucocorticoid binding in Vis compared with Sc PAs in females, measured by maximal binding capacity (P=0.035) or single saturating dose glucocorticoid binding (Bssd) (P=0.019). There was no regional difference in specific glucocorticoid binding in males. There was a gender difference with fewer GRs in Vis PAs in females compared with males measured by Bssd (P=0.006). In summary, GRs are present in human PAs. There is a lower GR density in Vis compared with Sc PAs in females, and females have fewer GRs in Vis PAs compared with males. These differences are likely to affect regional aromatase activity and to contribute to the smaller visceral fat mass in females compared with males.