Characterising variability and regional correlations of microstructure and mechanical competence of human tibial trabecular bone: An in-vivo HR-pQCT study

Objective: Quantifying spatial distribution of trabecular bone mechanical competence and microstructure is important for early diagnosis of skeletal disorders and potential risk of fracture. The objective of this study was to determine a spatial distribution of trabecular mechanical and morphological properties in human distal tibia and examine the contribution of regional variability of trabecular microarchitecture to mechanical competence. Methods: A total of 340 representative volume elements at five anatomic regions of trabecular bone - anterior, posterior, lateral, medial and centre - from ten white European-origin postmenopausal women were studied. Region-specific trabecular parameters such as trabecular volume fraction, trabecular thickness, trabecular number, trabecular surface area, trabecular separation, plate-like structure fraction and finite element analysis of trabecular stiffness were determined based on in-vivo high resolution peripheral quantitative computed tomographic (HR-pQCT) images of distal tibiae from ten postmenopausal women. Mean values were compared using analysis of variance. The correlations between morphological parameters and stiffness were calculated. Results: Significant regional variation in trabecular microarchitecture of the human distal tibia was observed (p<0.05), with up to 106% differences between lowest (central and anterior) and highest (medial and posterior) regions. Higher proportion of plate-like trabecular morphology (63% and 53%) was found in medial and posterior regions in the distal tibia. Stiffness estimated from finite element models also differed significantly (p<0.05), with stiffness being 4.5 times higher in the highest (medial) than lowest (central) regions. The bone volume fraction was the strongest correlate of stiffness in all regions. Conclusion: A novel finding of this study is the fact that significant regional variation of stiffness derived from two-phased FEA model with individual trabecula representation correlated highly to regional morphology obtained from in-vivo HR-pQCT images at the distal tibia. The correlations between regional morphological parameters and mechanical competence of trabecular bone were consistent at all regions studied, with regional BV/TV showing the highest correlation. The method developed for regional analysis of trabecular mechanical competence may offer a better insight into the relationship between mechanical behaviour and microstructure of bone. The findings provide evidence needed to further justify a larger-cohort feasibility study for early detection of bone degenerative diseases: examining regional variations in mechanical competence and trabecular specifications may allow better understanding of fracture risks in addition to others contributing factors.