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Visualisation of three-dimensional microcracks in compact bone

  • F. J. O'BRIEN (a1) (a2), D. TAYLOR (a2), G. R. DICKSON (a3) and T. C. LEE (a1) (a2)

Abstract

Microdamage in bone contributes to the loss of bone quality in osteoporosis and is thought to play a major role in both fragility and stress fractures (Schaffler et al. 1995). In this study, in vivo microcracks in human ribs were bulk-stained in basic fuchsin and viewed in longitudinal section and in 3 dimensions using 2 different computer-based methods of reconstruction: (1) serial sectioning of methylmethacrylate embedded sections using a sledge macrotome and identification of microcracks using UV epifluorescence followed by computerised reconstruction of microcracks using software and (2) laser scanning confocal microscopy of thick sections followed by reconstruction of microcracks into a 3-D image. The size and shape of microcracks were found to be similar using both techniques. Both techniques of reconstruction showed microcracks to be approximately elliptical in shape. From the serial sectioning reconstructions (n = 9), microcracks were found to have a mean length of 404±145 μm (mean±S.D.) (in the longitudinal direction) and mean width of 97±38 μm (in the transverse direction). Using epifluorescence microscopy, 92 microcracks were identified; mean microcrack length was 349±100 μm in the longitudinal direction. This was consistent with other results (Burr & Martin, 1993) and with the theoretical prediction of an elliptical crack shape with aspect ratio (longitudinal[ratio ]transverse) of 5[ratio ]1 deduced from analysis of random 2-D sections (Taylor & Lee, 1998). The results obtained provide new data on the nature of microcracks in bone and the method has the potential to become a useful tool in the calculation of stress intensity values which indicate the probability of an individual microcrack propagating to cause a stress or fragility fracture.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dr T. C. Lee, Department of Anatomy, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland. Tel: +353 1 4022264; fax: +353 1 4022355; e-mail: tclee@rcsi.ie

Keywords

Visualisation of three-dimensional microcracks in compact bone

  • F. J. O'BRIEN (a1) (a2), D. TAYLOR (a2), G. R. DICKSON (a3) and T. C. LEE (a1) (a2)

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