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Open Access Research article

Infrapatellar fat pad in the knee: is local fat good or bad for knee osteoarthritis?

Weiyu Han12, Shiji Cai1, Zhenhua Liu12, Xingzhong Jin1, Xia Wang1, Benny Antony1, Yuelong Cao1, Dawn Aitken1, Flavia Cicuttini3, Graeme Jones1 and Changhai Ding13*

Author Affiliations

1 Menzies Research Institute Tasmania, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 23, Hobart, Tasmania 7000, Australia

2 Department of Orthopedics, the Third Affiliated Hospital of Southern Medical University, Guangzhou 510630, China

3 Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne 3004, Australia

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2014, 16:R145  doi:10.1186/ar4607

Published: 9 July 2014

Abstract

Introduction

Recent studies regarding the infrapatellar fat pad (IPFP) mainly focus on the roles of the cells derived from the IPFP. There have been few clinical or epidemiological studies reporting on the association between the IPFP and knee osteoarthritis (OA). Our objective is to generate hypotheses regarding the associations between IPFP maximum area and knee OA measures in older adults.

Methods

A total of 977 subjects between 50 and 80 years of age (mean, 62.4 years) participated in the study. Radiographic knee osteophyte and joint space narrowing (JSN) were assessed using the Osteoarthritis Research Society International atlas. T1- or T2-weighted fat suppressed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was utilized to assess IPFP maximum area, cartilage volume, cartilage defects, and bone marrow lesions (BMLs). Knee pain was assessed by self-administered Western Ontario McMaster Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) questionnaire.

Results

After adjustment for potential confounders, IPFP maximum area was significantly associated with joint space narrowing (odds ratio (OR): 0.75, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.62 to 0.91 (medial), 0.77, 95% CI: 0.62 to 0.96 (lateral)) and medial osteophytes (OR: 0.52, 95% CI: 0.35 to 0.76), knee tibial and patellar cartilage volume (β: 56.9 to 164.9 mm3/cm2, all P <0.001), tibial cartilage defects (OR: 0.58, 95% CI: 0.41 to 0.81 (medial), 0.53, 95% CI: 0.40-0.71 (lateral)), any BMLs (OR: 0.77, 95% CI: 0.63 to 0.94), and knee pain on a flat surface (OR: 0.79, 95% CI: 0.63 to 0.98). IPFP maximum area was negatively, but not significantly, associated with femoral cartilage defects, lateral tibiofemoral BMLs, and total knee pain or other knee pain subscales.

Conclusion

IPFP maximum area is beneficially associated with radiographic OA, MRI structural pathology and knee pain on a flat surface suggesting a protective role for IPFP possibly through shock absorption. Consequently, we must pay special attention to IPFP in the clinical settings, avoiding resection of normal IPFP in knee surgery.