Bone marrow adipose tissue (BMAT) is a dynamic tissue which is associated with osteoporosis, bone metastasis, and primary bone tumors. The aim of this study is to determine region-specific variations and age- and gender-specific differences in BMAT and BMAT composition in healthy subjects. In this cross-sectional study, we included 40 healthy subjects (26 male: mean age 49 years, range 22–75 years; 14 female: mean age 50 years, range 29–71) and determined the bone marrow signal fat fraction and bone marrow unsaturation in the spine (C3-L5), pelvis, femora, and tibiae using chemical shift encoding-based water–fat imaging (WFI) with multiple gradient echoes (mGRE). Regions of interest covered the individual vertebral bodies, pelvis and proximal epimetaphysis, diaphysis, and distal epimetaphysis of the femur and tibia. The spinal fat fraction increased from cervical to lumbar vertebral bodies (mean fat fraction (± SD or (IQR): cervical spine 0.37 ± 0.1; thoracic spine 0.41 ± 0.08. lumbar spine 0.46 ± 0.01; p < 0.001). The femoral fat fraction increased from proximal to distal (proximal 0.78 ± 0.09; diaphysis 0.86 (0.15); distal 0.93 ± 0.02; p < 0.001), while within the tibia the fat fraction decreased from proximal to distal (proximal 0.92 ± 0.01; diaphysis 0.91 (0.02); distal 0.90 ± 0.01; p < 0.001). In female subjects, age was associated with fat fraction in the spine, pelvis, and proximal femur (ρ = 0.88 p < 0.001; ρ = 0.87 p < 0.001; ρ = 0.63 p = 0.02; ρ = 0.74 p = 0.002, respectively), while in male subjects age was only associated with spinal fat fraction (ρ = 0.40 p = 0.04). Fat fraction and unsaturation were negatively associated within the spine (r = -0.40 p = 0.01), while in the extremities fat fraction and unsaturation were positively associated (distal femur: r = 0.42 p = 0.01; proximal tibia: r = 0.47, p = 0.002; distal tibia: r = 0.35 p = 0.03), both independent of age and gender. In conclusion, we confirm the distinct, age- and gender-dependent, distribution of BMAT throughout the human skeleton and we show that, contradicting previous animal studies, bone marrow unsaturation in human subjects is highest within the axial skeleton compared to the appendicular skeleton. Furthermore, we show that BMAT unsaturation was negatively correlated with BMAT within the spine, while in the appendicular skeleton, BMAT and BMAT unsaturation were positively associated.

Original languageEnglish
Article number815835
Pages (from-to)815835
JournalFrontiers in Endocrinology
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2022


  • bone marrow adipose tissue
  • bone marrow adipose tissue distribution
  • bone marrow fat unsaturation
  • healthy subjects
  • water–fat MR imaging

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