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Guidelines on Methodologies in Bone Marrow Adiposity Research

The Working Group on Methodologies published their Guidelines in Frontiers in Endocrinology in February 2020 (link)


The interest in bone marrow adiposity (BMA) has increased over the last decade due to its association with, and potential role, in a range of diseases (osteoporosis, diabetes, anorexia, cancer) as well as treatments (corticosteroid, radiation, chemotherapy, thiazolidinediones). However, to advance the field of BMA research, standardization of methods is desirable to increase comparability of study outcomes and foster collaboration. Therefore, at the 2017 annual BMA meeting, the International Bone Marrow Adiposity Society (BMAS) founded a working group to evaluate methodologies in BMA research. All BMAS members could volunteer to participate. The working group members, who are all active preclinical or clinical BMA researchers, searched the literature for articles investigating BMA and discussed the results during personal and telephone conferences.

According to the consensus opinion, both based on the review of the literature and on expert opinion, we describe existing methodologies and discuss the challenges and future directions for (1) histomorphometry of bone marrow adipocytes, (2) ex vivo BMA imaging, (3) in vivo BMA imaging, (4) cell isolation, culture, differentiation and in vitro modulation of primary bone marrow adipocytes and bone marrow stromal cell precursors, (5) lineage tracing and in vivo BMA modulation, and (6) BMA biobanking.

We identify as accepted standards in BMA research: manual histomorphometry and osmium tetroxide 3D contrast-enhanced μCT for ex vivo quantification, specific MRI sequences (WFI and H-MRS) for in vivo studies, and RT-qPCR with a minimal four gene panel or lipid-based assays for in vitro quantification of bone marrow adipogenesis. Emerging techniques are described which may soon come to complement or substitute these gold standards. Known confounding factors and minimal reporting standards are presented, and their use is encouraged to facilitate comparison across studies.

In conclusion, specific BMA methodologies have been developed. However, important challenges remain. In particular, we advocate for the harmonization of methodologies, the precise reporting of known confounding factors, and the identification of methods to modulate BMA independently from other tissues. Wider use of existing animal models with impaired BMA production (e.g., Pfrt-/-, KitW/W-v) and development of specific BMA deletion models would be highly desirable for this purpose.