Objective: To assess the association of prevalent cartilage damage and cartilage loss over time with incident bone marrow lesions (BMLs) in the same subregion of the tibiofemoral compartments as detected on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Methods: The Multicenter Osteoarthritis Study is an observational study of individuals with or at risk for knee osteoarthritis (OA). Subjects whose baseline and 30-month follow-up MRIs were read for findings of OA were included. MRI was performed with a 1.0 T extremity system. Tibiofemoral compartments were divided into 10 subregions. Cartilage morphology was scored from 0 to 6 and BMLs were scored from 0 to 3. Prevalent cartilage damage and cartilage loss over time were considered predictors of incident BMLs. Associations were assessed using logistic regression, with adjustments for potential confounders. Results: Medially, incident BMLs were associated with baseline cartilage damage (adjusted odds ratio (OR) 3.9 [95% confidence interval (CI) 3.0, 5.1]), incident cartilage loss (7.3 [95% CI 5.0, 10.7]) and progression of cartilage loss (7.6 [95% CI 5.1, 11.3]) Laterally, incident BMLs were associated with baseline cartilage damage (4.1 [95% CI 2.6, 6.3]), incident cartilage loss (6.0 [95% CI 3.1, 11.8]), and progression of cartilage loss (11.9 [95% CI 6.2, 23.0]). Conclusion: Prevalent cartilage damage and cartilage loss over time are strongly associated with incident BMLs in the same subregion, supporting the significance of the close interrelation of the osteochondral unit in the progression of knee OA. © 2012 Osteoarthritis Research Society International.