Reciprocal Relation between Marrow Adiposity and the Amount of Bone in the Axial and Appendicular Skeleton of Young Adults

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Studies in the elderly suggest a reciprocal relation between increased marrow adiposity and bone loss, supporting basic research data indicating that osteoblasts and adipocytes share a common progenitor cell. However, whether this relation represents a preferential differentiation of stromal cells from osteoblasts to adipocytes or whether a passive accumulation of fat as bone is lost and marrow space increases with aging is unknown. To address this question and avoid the confounding effect of bone loss, we examined teenagers and young adults.


Using computed tomography, we obtained measurements of bone density and cross-sectional area of the lumbar vertebral bodies and cortical bone area, cross-sectional area, marrow canal area, and fat density in the marrow of the femurs in 255 sexually mature subjects (126 females, 129 males; 15-24.9 yr of age). Additionally, values for total body fat were obtained with dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry.


Regardless of gender, reciprocal relations were found between fat density and measures of vertebral bone density and femoral cortical bone area (r = 0.19-0.39; all P values ≤ .03). In contrast, there was no relation between marrow canal area and cortical bone area in the femurs, neither between fat density and the cross-sectional dimensions of the bones. We also found no relation between anthropometric or dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry fat values and measures for marrow fat density.


Our results indicate an inverse relation between bone marrow adiposity and the amount of bone in the axial and appendicular skeleton and support the notion of a common progenitor cell capable of mutually exclusive differentiation into the cell lineages responsible for bone and fat formation.

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