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J Anat. 2009 May;214(5):729-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2009.01054.x.

Variation of trabecular microarchitectural parameters in cranial, caudal and mid-vertebral regions of the ovine L3 vertebra.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin 2, Ireland. oran.kennedy@gmail.com


The lumbar vertebrae are major load-bearing structures within the spinal column. The current understanding of the microstructure of these bodies and their full role in load-bearing is incomplete. There is a need to develop our understanding of these issues to improve fracture prediction in musculoskeletal diseases such as osteoporosis. The lumbar vertebrae consist primarily of trabecular bone enclosed in a thin cortical shell, but little is known about how microstructural parameters vary within these structures, particularly in relation to the trabecular compartment. The specific aim of this study was to use micro-computed tomography to characterize the trabecular microarchitecture of the ovine L3 vertebra in cranial, mid-vertebra and caudal regions. The L3 vertebra was obtained from skeletally mature ewes (n = 18) more than 4 years old. Three-dimensional reconstructions of three pre-defined regions were obtained and microarchitectural parameters were calculated. Whereas there was no difference in bone volume fraction or structural model index between regions, trabecular number, thickness, spacing, connectivity density, degree of anisotropy and bone mineral density all displayed significant regional variations. The observed differences were consistent with the biomechanical hypothesis that in vivo loads are distributed differently at the endplates compared with the mid-vertebra. Thus, a more integrative approach combining biomechanical theory and anatomical features may improve fracture risk assessment in the future.

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