Among postmenopausal women, declining estrogen may facilitate fat partitioning from the periphery to the intra-abdominal space. Furthermore, it has been suggested that excess androgens contribute to a central fat distribution pattern in women. The objective of this longitudinal study was to identify independent associations of the hormone milieu with fat distribution in postmenopausal women. Fifty-three healthy postmenopausal women, either using or not using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) were evaluated at baseline and 2 years. The main outcomes were intra-abdominal adipose tissue (IAAT), subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue, and total thigh fat analyzed by computed tomography scanning and leg fat and total body fat mass measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Serum estradiol, estrone, estrone sulfate, total testosterone, free testosterone, androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate), sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), and cortisol were assessed. On average, in all women combined, IAAT increased by 10% (10.5 cm(2)) over 2 years (P < 0.05). Among HRT users, estradiol was inversely associated with, and estrone was positively associated with, 2-year gain in IAAT. Among HRT nonusers, free testosterone was inversely associated with, and SHBG was positively associated with, 2-year gain in IAAT. These results suggest that in postmenopausal women using HRT, greater circulating estradiol may play an integral role in limiting lipid deposition to the intra-abdominal cavity, a depot associated with metabolically detrimental attributes. However, a high proportion of weak estrogens may promote fat partitioning to the intra-abdominal cavity over time. Furthermore, among postmenopausal women not using HRT, greater circulating free testosterone may limit IAAT accrual.