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J Bone Miner Res. 1999 Jul;14(7):1167-74.

Direct three-dimensional morphometric analysis of human cancellous bone: microstructural data from spine, femur, iliac crest, and calcaneus.

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Institute for Biomedical Engineering, University of Zürich and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zürich, Switzerland.


The appearance of cancellous bone architecture is different for various skeletal sites and various disease states. During aging and disease, plates are perforated and connecting rods are dissolved. There is a continuous shift from one structural type to the other. So traditional histomorphometric procedures, which are based on a fixed model type, will lead to questionable results. The introduction of three-dimensional (3D) measuring techniques in bone research makes it possible to capture the actual architecture of cancellous bone without assumptions of the structure type. This requires, however, new methods that make direct use of the 3D information. Within the framework of a BIOMED I project of the European Union, we analyzed a total of 260 human bone biopsies taken from five different skeletal sites (femoral head, vertebral bodies L2 and L4, iliac crest, and calcaneus) from 52 donors. The samples were measured three-dimensionally with a microcomputed tomography scanner and subsequently evaluated with both traditional indirect histomorphometric methods and newly developed direct ones. The results show significant differences between the methods and in their relation to the bone volume fraction. Based on the direct 3D analysis of human bone biopsies, it appears that samples with a lower bone mass are primarily characterized by a smaller plate-to-rod ratio, and to a lesser extent by thinner trabecular elements.

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