MR-based proton density fat fraction (PDFF) of the vertebral bone marrow differentiates between patients with and without osteoporotic vertebral fractures

Osteoporos Int. 2022 Feb;33(2):487-496. doi: 10.1007/s00198-021-06147-3. Epub 2021 Sep 18.


The bone marrow proton density fat fraction (PDFF) assessed with MRI enables the differentiation between osteoporotic/osteopenic patients with and without vertebral fractures. Therefore, PDFF may be a potentially useful biomarker for bone fragility assessment.

Introduction: To evaluate whether magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-based proton density fat fraction (PDFF) of vertebral bone marrow can differentiate between osteoporotic/osteopenic patients with and without vertebral fractures.

Methods: Of the 52 study patients, 32 presented with vertebral fractures of the lumbar spine (66.4 ± 14.4 years, 62.5% women; acute low-energy osteoporotic/osteopenic vertebral fractures, N = 25; acute high-energy traumatic vertebral fractures, N = 7). These patients were frequency matched for age and sex to patients without vertebral fractures (N = 20, 69.3 ± 10.1 years, 70.0% women). Trabecular bone mineral density (BMD) values were derived from quantitative computed tomography. Chemical shift encoding-based water-fat MRI of the lumbar spine was performed, and PDFF maps were calculated. Associations between fracture status and PDFF were assessed using multivariable linear regression models.

Results: Over all patients, mean PDFF and trabecular BMD correlated significantly (r = - 0.51, P < 0.001). In the osteoporotic/osteopenic group, those patients with osteoporotic/osteopenic fractures had a significantly higher PDFF than those without osteoporotic fractures after adjusting for age, sex, weight, height, and trabecular BMD (adjusted mean difference [95% confidence interval], 20.8% [10.4%, 30.7%]; P < 0.001), although trabecular BMD values showed no significant difference between the subgroups (P = 0.63). For the differentiation of patients with and without vertebral fractures in the osteoporotic/osteopenic subgroup using mean PDFF, an area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve (AUC) of 0.88 (P = 0.006) was assessed. When evaluating all patients with vertebral fractures, those with high-energy traumatic fractures had a significantly lower PDFF than those with low-energy osteoporotic/osteopenic vertebral fractures (P < 0.001).

Conclusion: MR-based PDFF enables the differentiation between osteoporotic/osteopenic patients with and without vertebral fractures, suggesting the use of PDFF as a potential biomarker for bone fragility.

Keywords: bone marrow; magnetic resonance imaging; osteoporosis; spine.

MeSH terms

  • Bone Density
  • Bone Marrow / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Osteoporotic Fractures* / diagnostic imaging
  • Osteoporotic Fractures* / etiology
  • Protons
  • Spinal Fractures* / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Fractures* / etiology


  • Protons