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Keywords:

  • fat quantification;
  • white and brown adipose tissue;
  • ectopic fat;
  • muscle;
  • obesity;
  • water–fat MRI;
  • spectroscopy;
  • chemical shift

Accurate, precise and reliable techniques for the quantification of body and organ fat distributions are important tools in physiology research. They are critically needed in studies of obesity and diseases involving excess fat accumulation. Proton MR methods address this need by providing an array of relaxometry-based (T1, T2) and chemical shift-based approaches. These techniques can generate informative visualizations of regional and whole-body fat distributions, yield measurements of fat volumes within specific body depots and quantify fat accumulation in abdominal organs and muscles. MR methods are commonly used to investigate the role of fat in nutrition and metabolism, to measure the efficacy of short- and long-term dietary and exercise interventions, to study the implications of fat in organ steatosis and muscular dystrophies and to elucidate pathophysiological mechanisms in the context of obesity and its comorbidities. The purpose of this review is to provide a summary of mainstream MR strategies for fat quantification. The article succinctly describes the principles that differentiate water and fat proton signals, summarizes the advantages and limitations of various techniques and offers a few illustrative examples. The article also highlights recent efforts in the MR of brown adipose tissue and concludes by briefly discussing some future research directions. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.