, Volume 61, Issue 2, pp 95-100

Cancellous Bone Structure in the Growing and Aging Lumbar Spine in a Historic Nubian Population

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There is abundant data on cancellous bone in the aging human spine, but little relating to the growing vertebral cancellous bone in childhood and adolescence. The purpose of this study was to map vertebral cancellous bone in a growth and age series of historic skeletal samples and to make comparisons with data published on recent material. Lumbar vertebral bodies were collected from 65 skeletons (0–60 years) from a medieval Nubian population. Ethnohistoric information was collected to interpret conditions that might have influenced bone structure and metabolism. The cancellous bone was studied three dimensionally, using stereophotography and scanning electron microscopy and morphometrically by performing a semiautomatic structural analysis on digitized backscattered electron images of polymethacrylate-embedded material. The cancellous bone structure in the children consisted mainly of a densely packed, uniform network of small rodlike trabeculae. The greatest bone volume fraction with small, more platelike trabeculae was observed during adolescence. In young adults, larger platelike trabeculae were present in the central zone and smaller trabeculae in the superior and inferior zones, as described for modern skeletal material. Structural changes associated with aging were observed much sooner than in modern man. By the estimated age of approximately 50–60 years, the predominant architectural elements were slender rarified rods in both sexes. The ethnohistorical data suggest that this was essentially a black African population of physically active peasants, not likely to suffer Vitamin D insufficiency or deficient calcium intake. Thus an earlier onset of the biological age changes in cancellous bone found in modern populations was probably prevalent.

Received: 1 March 1996 / Accepted: 31 December 1996