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Bone. 2015 Jun;75:144-50. doi: 10.1016/j.bone.2015.02.016. Epub 2015 Feb 20.

Quantifying the osteocyte network in the human skeleton.

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School of Mathematical Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia.
St Vincent's Institute of Medical Research, The University of Melbourne, Fitzroy, VIC 3065, Australia. Electronic address:


Osteocytes form an extensive cellular network throughout the hard tissue matrix of the skeleton, which is known to regulate skeletal structure. However due to limitations in imaging techniques, the magnitude and complexity of this network remain undefined. We have used data from recent papers obtained by new imaging techniques, in order to estimate absolute and relative quantities of the human osteocyte network and form a more complete understanding of the extent and nature of this network. We estimate that the total number of osteocytes within the average adult human skeleton is ~42 billion and that the total number of osteocyte dendritic projections from these cells is ~3.7 trillion. Based on prior measurements of canalicular density and a mathematical model of osteocyte dendritic process branching, we calculate that these cells form a total of 23 trillion connections with each other and with bone surface cells. We estimate the total length of all osteocytic processes connected end-to-end to be 175,000 km. Furthermore, we calculate that the total surface area of the lacuno-canalicular system is 215 m(2). However, the residing osteocytes leave only enough space for 24 mL of extracellular fluid. Calculations based on measurements in lactation-induced murine osteocytic osteolysis indicate a potential total loss of ~16,000 mm(3) (16 mL) of bone by this process in the human skeleton. Finally, based on the average speed of remodelling in the adult, we calculate that 9.1 million osteocytes are replenished throughout the skeleton on a daily basis, indicating the dynamic nature of the osteocyte network. We conclude that the osteocyte network is a highly complex communication network, and is much more vast than commonly appreciated. It is at the same order of magnitude as current estimates of the size of the neural network in the brain, even though the formation of the branched network differs between neurons and osteocytes. Furthermore, continual replenishment of large numbers of osteocytes in the process of remodelling allows therapeutic changes to the continually renewed osteoblast population to be rapidly incorporated into the skeleton.


Lacuno-canalicular network; Mathematical modelling; Osteocyte

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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