Osteoporosis International

, Volume 19, Issue 10, pp 1473–1483 | Cite as

Regional variations of vertebral trabecular bone microstructure with age and gender

  • H. ChenEmail author
  • S. Shoumura
  • S. Emura
  • Y. Bunai
Original Article



The vertebral trabecular bone has a complex three-dimensional (3D) microstructure, with inhomogeneous morphology. A thorough understanding of regional variations in the microstructural properties is crucial for evaluating age- and gender-related bone loss of the vertebra, and may help us to gain more insight into the mechanism of the occurrence of vertebral osteoporosis and the related fracture risks.


The aim of this study was to identify regional differences in 3D microstructure of vertebral trabecular bone with age and gender, using micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM).


We used 56 fourth lumbar vertebral bodies from 28 women and men (57–98 years of age) cadaver donors. The subjects were chosen to give an even age and gender distribution. Both women and men were divided into three age groups, 62-, 77- and 92-year-old groups. Five cubic specimens were prepared from anterosuperior, anteroinferior, central, posterosuperior and posteroinferior regions at sagittal section. Bone specimens were examined by using micro-CT and SEM.


Reduced bone volume (BV/TV), trabecular number (Tb.N) and connectivity density (Conn.D), and increased structure model index (SMI) were found between ages 62 and 77 years, and between ages 77 and 92 years. As compared with women, men had higher Tb.N in the 77-year-old group and higher Conn.D in the 62- and 77-year-old groups. The central and anterosuperior regions had lower BV/TV and Conn.D than their corresponding posteroinferior region. Increased resorbing surfaces, perforated or disconnected trabeculae and microcallus formations were found with age.


Vertebral trabeculae are microstructurally heterogeneous. Decreases in BV/TV and Conn.D with age are similar in women and men. Significant differences between women and men are observed at some microstructural parameters. Age-related vertebral trabecular bone loss may be caused by increased activity of resorption. These findings illustrate potential mechanisms underlying vertebral fractures.


Aging Micro-CT Microstructural properties Regional variation Scanning electron microscopy Vertebral body 



The authors thank Dr. Ken-ichi Tezuka, Department of Tissue and Organ Development, Gifu University Graduate School of Medicine, for providing micro-CT system used in this study.

Conflicts of interest



  1. 1.
    Ettinger MP (2003) Aging bone and osteoporosis: strategies for preventing fractures in the elderly. Arch Intern Med 163:2237–2246PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Fechtenbaum J, Cropet C, Kolta S et al (2005) The severity of vertebral fractures and health-related quality of life in osteoporotic postmenopausal women. Osteoporos Int 16:2175–2179PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Hui SL, Slemenda CW, Johnston CC Jr (1988) Age and bone mass as predictors of fracture in a prospective study. J Clin Invest 81:1804–1809PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Burr DB, Forwood MR, Fyhrie DP et al (1997) Bone microdamage and skeletal fragility in osteoporotic and stress fractures. J Bone Miner Res 12:6–15PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Stauber M, Müller R (2006) Age-related changes in trabecular bone microstructures: global and local morphometry. Osteoporos Int 17:616–626PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Legrand E, Chappard D, Pascaretti C et al (2000) Trabecular bone microarchitecture, bone mineral density, and vertebral fractures in male osteoporosis. J Bone Miner Res 15:13–19PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ding M (2000) Age variations in the properties of human tibial trabecular bone and cartilage. Acta Orthop Scand Suppl 292:1–45PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ding M, Odgaard A, Linde F et al (2002) Age-related variations in the microstructure of human tibial cancellous bone. J Orthop Res 20:615–621PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Kinney JH, Ladd AJ (1998) The relationship between three-dimensional connectivity and the elastic properties of trabecular bone. J Bone Miner Res 13:839–845PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Hordon LD, Raisi M, Aaron JE et al (2000) Trabecular architecture in women and men of similar bone mass with and without vertebral fracture: I. Two-dimensional histology. Bone 27:271–276PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Adams MA, Pollintine P, Tobias JH et al (2006) Intervertebral disc degeneration can predispose to anterior vertebral fractures in the thoracolumbar spine. J Bone Miner Res 21:1409–1416PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Thomsen JS, Ebbesen EN, Mosekilde L (2002) Zone-dependent changes in human vertebral trabecular bone: clinical implications. Bone 30:664–669PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Gong H, Zhang M, Yeung HY et al (2005) Regional variations in microstructural properties of vertebral trabeculae with aging. J Bone Miner Metab 23:174–180PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Gong H, Zhang M, Qin L et al (2006) Regional variations in microstructural properties of vertebral trabeculae with structural groups. Spine 31:24–32PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Hulme PA, Boyd SK, Ferguson SJ (2007) Regional variation in vertebral bone morphology and its contribution to vertebral fracture strength. Bone 41:946–957PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Thomsen JS, Ebbesen EN, Mosekilde L (2002) Predicting human vertebral bone strength by vertebral static histomorphometry. Bone 30:502–508PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Sigurdsson G, Aspelund T, Chang M et al (2006) Increasing sex difference in bone strength in old age: the Age, Gene/Environment Susceptibility-Reykjavik study (AGES-REYKJAVIK). Bone 39:644–651PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Bouxsein ML, Melton LJ 3rd, Riggs BL et al (2006) Age- and sex-specific differences in the factor of risk for vertebral fracture: a population-based study using QCT. J Bone Miner Res 21:1475–1482PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Jayasinghe JAP, Jones SJ, Boyde A (1993) Scanning electron microscopy of human lumbar vertebral bone surfaces. Virchows Arch A Pathol Anat 422:25–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Mosekilde L (1993) Vertebral structure and strength in vivo and in vitro. Calcif Tissue Int 53(Suppl.):S121–S126PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Washimi Y, Ito M, Morishima Y et al (2007) Effect of combined humanPTH(1–34) and calcitonin treatment in ovariectomized rats. Bone 41:786–793PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Joo YI, Sone T, Fukunaga M et al (2003) Effects of endurance exercise on three-dimensional trabecular bone microarchitecture in young growing rats. Bone 33:485–493PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Odgaard A, Gundersen HJ (1993) Quantification of connectivity in cancellous bone, with special emphasis on 3-D reconstructions. Bone 14:173–182PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Lorensen WE, Cline HE (1987) Marching cubes: a high resolution 3D surface construction algorithm. Comput Graph 21:163–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Hildebrand T, Rüegsegger P (1997) Quantification of bone microarchitecture with the structure model index. Comput Methods Biomech Biomed Engin 1:15–23PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Odgaard A (1997) Three-dimensional methods for quantification of cancellous bone architecture. Bone 20:315–328PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Harrigan TP, Mann RW (1984) Characterization of microstructural anisotropy in orthotropic materials using a second rank tensor. J Mater Sci 19:761–767CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Hildebrand T, Laib A, Müller R et al (1999) Direct three-dimensional morphometric analysis of human cancellous bone: microstructural data from spine, femur, iliac crest, and calcaneus. J Bone Miner Res 14:1167–1174PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Chen H, Shoumura S, Emura S (2004) Ultrastructural changes in bones of the senescence-accelerated mouse (SAMP6): a murine model for senile osteoporosis. Histol Histopathol 19:677–685PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Mosekilde L (1989) Sex differences in age-related loss of vertebral trabecular bone mass and structure-biomechanical consequences. Bone 10:425–432PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Thomsen JS, Ebbesen EN, Mosekilde LI (2002) Age-related differences between thinning of horizontal and vertical trabeculae in human lumbar bone as assessed by a new computerized method. Bone 31:136–142PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Mosekilde L (1988) Age-related changes in vertebral trabecular bone architecture–assessed by a new method. Bone 9:247–250PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Parfitt AM (1984) Age-related structural changes in trabecular and cortical bone: cellular mechanisms and biomechanical consequences. Calcif Tissue Int 36(Suppl 1):S123–S128PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Grote HJ, Amling M, Vogel M et al (1995) Intervertebral variation in trabecular microarchitecture throughout the normal spine in relation to age. Bone 16:301–308PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Thomsen JS, Ebbesen EN, Mosekilde L (2002) Static histomorphometry of human iliac crest and vertebral trabecular bone: a comparative study. Bone 30:267–274PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Eckstein F, Fischbeck M, Kuhn V et al (2004) Determinants and heterogeneity of mechanical competence throughout the thoracolumbar spine of elderly women and men. Bone 35:364–374PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Bergot C, Laval-Jeantet AM, Prêteux F et al (1988) Measurement of anisotropic vertebral trabecular bone loss during aging by quantitative image analysis. Calcif Tissue Res 43:143–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    McCalden RW, McGeough JA, Court-Brown CM (1997) Age-related changes in the compressive strength of cancellous bone. The relative importance of changes in density and trabecular architecture. J Bone Joint Surg Am 79:421–427PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Weinstein RS, Hutson MS (1987) Decreased trabecular width and increased trabecular spacing contribute to bone loss with aging. Bone 8:137–142PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Parfitt AM, Mathaws CHE, Villaneuva AR et al (1983) Relationship between surface, volume, and thickness of iliac trabecular bone in aging and in osteoporosis. Implications for the microanatomic and cellular mechanisms of bone loss. J Clin Invest 72:1396–1409PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Riggs BL, Parfitt AM (2005) Drugs used to treat osteoporosis: the critical need for a uniform nomenclature based on their action on bone remodeling. J Bone Miner Res 20:177–184PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    McDonnell P, McHugh PE, O’Mahoney D (2007) Vertebral osteoporosis and trabecular bone quality. Ann Biomed Eng 35:170–189PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Fyhrie DP, Lang SM, Hoshaw SJ et al (1995) Human vertebral cancellous bone surface distribution. Bone 17:287–291PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Ebbesen EN, Thomsen JS, Beck-Nielsen H et al (1998) Vertebral bone density evaluated by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and quantitative computed tomography in vitro. Bone 23:283–290PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Khosla S, Riggs BL, Atkinson EJ et al (2006) Effects of sex and age on bone microstructure at the ultradistal radius: a population-based noninvasive in vivo assessment. J Bone Miner Res 21:124–131PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Eckstein F, Matsuura M, Kuhn V et al (2007) Sex differences of human trabecular bone microstructure in aging are site-dependent. J Bone Miner Res 22:817–824PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Melton LJ 3rd (1995) Epidemiology of fractures. In: Riggs BL, Melton LJ (eds) Osteoporosis: etiology, diagnosis and management. 2nd ed. Lippicott-Raven, Philadelphia, pp 225–249Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Banse X, Devogelaer JP, Munting E et al (2001) Inhomogeneity of human vertebral cancellous bone: systematic density and structure patterns inside the vertebral body. Bone 28:563–571PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Silva MJ, Keaveny TM, Hayes WC (1998) Computed tomography-based finite element analysis predicts failure loads and fracture patterns for vertebral sections. J Orthop Res 16:300–308PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Grant JP, Oxland TR, Dvorak MF (2001) Mapping the structural properties of the lumbosacral vertebral endplates. Spine 26:889–896PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Hahn M, Vogel M, Amling M et al (1995) Microcallus formations of the cancellous bone: a quantitative analysis of the human spine. J Bone Mine Res 10:1410–1416CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© International Osteoporosis Foundation and National Osteoporosis Foundation 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnatomyGifu University Graduate School of MedicineGifuJapan
  2. 2.Department of Physical TherapyChubu Gakuin University School of RehabilitationGifuJapan
  3. 3.Nursing Course, Gifu University School of MedicineGifuJapan
  4. 4.Department of Legal MedicineGifu University Graduate School of MedicineGifuJapan

Personalised recommendations