Histomorphometry and cortical robusticity of the adult human femur


Recent quantitative analyses of human bone microanatomy, as well as theoretical models that propose bone microstructure and gross anatomical associations, have started to reveal insights into biological links that may facilitate remodeling processes. However, relationships between bone size and the underlying cortical bone histology remain largely unexplored. The goal of this study is to determine the extent to which static indicators of bone remodeling and vascularity, measured using histomorphometric techniques, relate to femoral midshaft cortical width and robusticity. Using previously published and new quantitative data from 450 adult human male (n = 233) and female (n = 217) femora, we determine if these aspects of femoral size relate to bone microanatomy. Scaling relationships are explored and interpreted within the context of tissue form and function. Analyses revealed that the area and diameter of Haversian canals and secondary osteons, and densities of secondary osteons and osteocyte lacunae from the sub-periosteal region of the posterior midshaft femur cortex were significantly, but not consistently, associated with femoral size. Cortical width and bone robusticity were correlated with osteocyte lacunae density and scaled with positive allometry. Diameter and area of osteons and Haversian canals decreased as the width of cortex and bone robusticity increased, revealing a negative allometric relationship. These results indicate that microscopic products of cortical bone remodeling and vascularity are linked to femur size. Allometric relationships between more robust human femora with thicker cortical bone and histological products of bone remodeling correspond with principles of bone functional adaptation. Future studies may benefit from exploring scaling relationships between bone histomorphometric data and measurements of bone macrostructure.

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    For the sake of clarity, and to ensure that our study follows standard histomorphometry nomenclature [11], we refer to the cortical distance between the endosteum and periosteum as ‘cortical width’ (defining transverse 2D measurements of diaphyseal cortex) rather than ‘cortical thickness’ (implying 3D measurements) [e.g., 24].

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    See [51,52,53].



Cortical width


Cortical width robusticity index


Intact osteon density


Fragmentary osteon density


Osteon population density


Osteon area


Haversian canal area


Haversian canal diameter


Osteocyte lacunae density


Reduced major axis regression


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We thank the School of Anthropology and Conservation (University of Kent, UK) for research funding (JJM), The Royal Society for equipment funding (PM), Prof Kate Robson Brown (Bristol), Prof Richard Griffiths (Kent), and Prof Dr David Roberts (Kent) for research support, and Prof Stephen Haslett (ANU), Dr Simon Tollington (Kent), Alannah Pearson (ANU), Dr Julien Louys (ANU) for statistical advice. Invaluable feedback from the editor and two reviewers greatly improved our manuscript.

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Correspondence to Justyna Jolanta Miszkiewicz.

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Miszkiewicz, J.J., Mahoney, P. Histomorphometry and cortical robusticity of the adult human femur. J Bone Miner Metab 37, 90–104 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00774-017-0899-3

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  • Bone histomorphometry
  • Osteocyte lacunae
  • Osteons
  • Haversian canals
  • Femur