Current Molecular Biology Reports

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 117–122 | Cite as

Bone Marrow “Yellow” and “Red” Adipocytes”: Good or Bad Cells?

  • Domenico Mattiucci
  • Olaia Naveiras
  • Antonella PoloniEmail author
Molecular Biology of Bone Marrow Fat Adiposity (B van der Eerden, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Molecular Biology of Bone Marrow Fat Adiposity


Purpose of Review

Replacement of red hematopoietic bone marrow with yellow adipocyte-rich marrow constitutes a physiological process associated with aging. Adipocytes have recently emerged as an active part of the bone marrow niche and exert paracrine and endocrine functions, thereby contributing to the regulation of hematopoiesis. Here, we review the current understanding of the interactions between bone marrow adipocytes (BMAs) and hematopoietic cells, as well as their potential role in the progression of hematological malignancies.

Recent Findings

Until recently, BMAs have been considered space-filler cells. Emerging evidence, however, associates BMA abundance with hematopoietic regulation. On the one hand, human clinical data and experimental findings from animal models suggest that BMAs may act as negative regulators of the hematopoietic microenvironment. On the other hand, recent data has also shown BMAs to exert positive effects on hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) survival. These seemingly contradictory effects could be explained either by a differential effect of distinct BMA subtypes on hematopoiesis, or by a differential response to BMA stimulation in HSCs versus their committed progeny. Two distinct types of bone marrow adipocytes have previously been described based on anatomical localization. Adipocytes located in the “yellow” marrow are bigger in size, less responsive to environmental stimuli, and associated with HSC quiescence. On the contrary, adipocytes situated within regions of hematopoietically active “red” marrow are significantly more labile and provide important support to regenerating blood populations. Moreover, beyond the presumed differential role of BMA subtypes in hematopoiesis, an imbalanced proportion of stromal constituents could impair their capacity to provide a protective role. Indeed, if BMA commitment has been shown essential for hematopoietic regeneration, skeletal regions constitutively enriched in BMA would be poorly vascularized, which would in turn negatively affect HSC support. Recently, the interplay of adipocytes and solid cancer has been revealed, with adipocytes promoting the growth of breast, ovarian and prostate cancers. BMAs have been no exception, playing an active role in the support of neoplastic cells in the bone marrow niche, particularly for bone metastatic disease and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Acute myeloid leukemia (AML), however, actively suppresses BMAs, which results in impaired myelo-erythroid maturation.


It is becoming increasingly evident that BMAs are ideally placed to interact with normal and malignant hematopoiesis. As such, elucidating the relationship between BMAs and specific hematopoietic cell types represents a novel avenue to explore therapeutic strategies for the treatment of hematological malignancies.


Bone marrow adipocytes Hematopoiesis Microenvironment Hematopoietic stem cells Mesenchymal stromal cells Leukemia 



The authors thank Daniel Naveed Tavakol for his editing help.

We also thank the “BONEAhead” initiative for making our collaboration possible.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Domenico Mattiucci and Antonella Poloni declare no conflicts of interest; Olaia Naveiras reports having a related patent US13264423 issued.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Domenico Mattiucci
    • 1
  • Olaia Naveiras
    • 2
  • Antonella Poloni
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Clinica di Ematologia, Dipartimento Scienze Cliniche e MolecolariUniversità Politecnica MarcheAnconaItaly
  2. 2.Laboratory of Regenerative Hematopoiesis, School of Life Sciences, Swiss Experimental Cancer Research Institute (ISREC) and Institute of Bioengineering (IBI), École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) & Hematology Division, Department of OncologyCentre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV)LausanneSwitzerland

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