DOI: 10.1111/joa.13984 ISSN: 0021-8782

The suprapatellar fat pad: A histotopographic comparative study

Elena Stocco, Martina Contran, Chiara Giulia Fontanella, Lucia Petrelli, Ilaria Toniolo, Aron Emmi, Filippo Romanato, Andrea Porzionato, Raffaele De Caro, Veronica Macchi
  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Histology
  • Anatomy


The suprapatellar fat pad is an adipose tissue located in the anterior knee whose role in osteoarthritis is still debated. Considering that anatomy drives function, the aim of this histotopographic study was to investigate the specific morphological features of the suprapatellar fat pad versus the infrapatellar fat pad in the absence of osteoarthritis, for a broad comparative analysis. Suprapatellar fat pad and infrapatellar fat pad tissue samples (n = 10/group) underwent microscopical/immunohistochemical staining and transmission electron microscopy analysis; thus, tissue‐specific characteristics (i.e., vessels and nerve endings presence, lobuli, adipocytes features, septa), including extracellular matrix proteins prevalence (collagens, elastic fibers), were focused. Multiphoton microscopy was also adopted to evaluate collagen fiber orientation within the samples by Fast Fourier Transform (coherency calculation). The absence of inflammation was confirmed, and comparable counted vessels and nerve endings were shown. Like the infrapatellar fat pad, the suprapatellar fat pad appeared as a white adipose tissue with lobuli and septa of comparable diameter and thickness, respectively. Tissue main characteristics were also proved by both semithin sections and transmission electron microscopy analysis. The suprapatellar fat pad adipocytes were roundish and with a smaller area, perimeter, and major axis than that of the infrapatellar fat pad. The collagen fibers surrounding them showed no significant difference in collagen type I and significantly higher values for collagen type III in the infrapatellar fat pad group. Regarding the septa, elastic fiber content was statistically comparable between the two groups, even though more represented by the suprapatellar fat pad. Total collagen was significantly higher in the infrapatellar fat pad and comparing collagen type I and type III they were similarly represented in the whole cohort despite collagen type I appearing to be higher in the infrapatellar fat pad than in the suprapatellar fat pad and vice versa for collagen type III. Second harmonic generation microscopy confirmed through coherency calculation an anisotropic distribution of septa collagen fibers. From a mechanical point of view, the different morphological characteristics determined a major stiffness for the infrapatellar fat pad with respect to the suprapatellar fat pad. This study provides, for the first time, a topographic description of the suprapatellar fat pad compared to the infrapatellar fat pad; differences between the two groups may be attributed to a different anatomical location within the knee; the results gathered here may be useful for a more complete interpretation of osteoarthritis disease, involving not only cartilage but the whole joint.

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