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Br J Sports Med. 2003;37(5):436-40.

Sex differences in whole body skeletal muscle mass measured by magnetic resonance imaging and its distribution in young Japanese adults.

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  • 1Tokyo Metropolitan University, Tokyo, Japan.



To determine sex differences in the distribution of regional and total skeletal muscle (SM) using contiguous whole body magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data, and to examine the relations between fat free mass (FFM) and total and regional SM masses.


A total of 20 Japanese college students (10 women and 10 men) volunteered for the study. FFM was measured by two compartment densitometry. Whole body MRI images were prepared using a 1.5 T scanner. Contiguous transverse images with 1.0 cm slice thickness were obtained from the first cervical vertebra to the ankle joints. All MRI scans were segmented into four components (SM, subcutaneous adipose tissue, bone, and residual tissues). In each slice, the SM tissue cross sectional areas (CSAs) were digitised, and the muscle tissue volume per slice was calculated by multiplying muscle CSA by slice thickness. SM volume units (litres) were converted into mass units (kg) by multiplying the volumes by the assumed constant density (1.041 mg/ml) for SM.


The SM distribution pattern (shape of curve) from the contiguous whole body slices was essentially similar for the two sexes, with two large peaks and three smaller peaks (arms excluded). However, the largest peak was observed at the upper portion of the thigh for women and at the level of the shoulder for men. Men had larger (p<0.01) total and regional SM mass than women. All regional SM masses correlated highly (r=0.90-0.99, p<0.01) with total SM mass. A strong positive correlation was observed between FFM and total and regional SM masses in both sexes (women, r=0.95; men, r=0.90; all p<0.01). As FFM increased, there was a corresponding increase in SM/FFM ratio for all subjects (r=0.86, p<0.01).


Sex differences in total SM/FFM ratio and regional SM distributions are associated with the degree of absolute FFM accumulation in men and women.

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