Bone marrow is a semi-solid tissue which may be found within the spongy or cancellous portions of bones. In birds and mammals, bone marrow is the primary site of new blood cell production or hematopoiesis. It is composed of hematopoietic cells, marrow adipose tissue, and supportive stromal cells. In adult humans, bone marrow is primarily located in the ribs, vertebrae, sternum, and bones of the pelvis. On average, bone marrow constitutes 4% of the total body mass of humans; in an adult having 65 kilograms of mass (143 lb), bone marrow typically accounts for approximately 2.6 kilograms (5.7 lb).
Human marrow produces approximately 500 billion blood cells per day, which join the systemic circulation via permeable vasculaturesinusoids within the medullary cavity. All types of hematopoietic cells, including both myeloid and lymphoid lineages, are created in bone marrow; however, lymphoid cells must migrate to other lymphoid organs (e.g. thymus) in order to complete maturation.
Bone marrow transplants can be conducted to treat severe diseases of the bone marrow, including certain forms of cancer such as leukemia. Additionally, bone marrow stem cells have been successfully transformed into functional neural cells, and can also potentially be used to treat illnesses such as inflammatory bowel disease.
The composition of marrow is dynamic, as the mixture of cellular and non-cellular components (connective tissue) shifts with age and in response to systemic factors. In humans, marrow is colloquially characterized as “red” or “yellow” marrow (Latin: medulla ossium rubra, Latin: medulla ossium flava, respectively) depending on the prevalence of hematopoetic cells vs fat cells. While the precise mechanisms underlying marrow regulation are not understood, compositional changes occur according to stereotypical patterns.For example, a newborn baby’s bones exclusively contain hematopoietically active “red” marrow, and there is a progressive conversion towards “yellow” marrow with age. In adults, red marrow is found mainly in the central skeleton, such as the pelvis, sternum, cranium, ribs, vertebrae and scapulae, and variably found in the proximal epiphyseal ends of long bones such as the femur and humerus. In circumstances of chronic hypoxia, the body can convert yellow marrow back to red marrow to increase blood cell production.
At the cellular level, the main functional component of bone marrow includes the progenitor cells which are destined to mature into blood and lymphoid cells. Marrow contains hematopoietic stem cells which give rise to the three classes of blood cells that are found in circulation: white blood cells (leukocytes), red blood cells (erythrocytes), and platelets (thrombocytes).