White adipose tissue (WAT) is a major endocrine organ, secreting a diverse range of hormones, lipid species, cytokines and other factors to exert diverse local and systemic effects. These secreted products, known as 'adipokines', contribute extensively to WAT's impact on physiology and disease. Adipocytes also exist in the bone marrow (BM), but unlike WAT, study of this bone marrow adipose tissue (MAT) has been relatively limited. We recently discovered that MAT contributes to circulating adiponectin, an adipokine that mediates cardiometabolic benefits. Moreover, we found that MAT expansion exerts systemic effects. Together, these observations identify MAT as an endocrine organ. Additional studies are revealing further secretory functions of MAT, including production of other adipokines, cytokines and lipids that exert local effects within bone. These observations suggest that, like WAT, MAT has secretory functions with diverse potential effects, both locally and systemically. A major limitation is that these findings are often based on in vitro approaches that may not faithfully recapitulate the characteristics and functions of BM adipocytes in vivo. This underscores the need to develop improved methods for in vivo analysis of MAT function, including more robust transgenic models for MAT targeting, and continued development of techniques for non-invasive analysis of MAT quantity and quality in humans. Although many aspects of MAT formation and function remain poorly understood, MAT is now attracting increasing research focus; hence, there is much promise for further advances in our understanding of MAT as an endocrine organ, and how MAT impacts human health and disease.
- Bone marrow adipose tissue