The ability to evaluate fracture risk at an early time point is essential for improved prognostics as well as enhanced treatment in cases of bone loss such as from osteoporosis. Improving the diagnostic ability is inherent upon both high-resolution non-invasive imaging, and a thorough understanding of how the derived indices of structure and density relate to its true mechanical behavior. Using sheep femoral trabecular bone with a range of strength, the interrelationship of mechanical and microstructural parameters was analyzed using multi-directional mechanical testing and micro-computed tomography. Forty-five cubic trabecular bone samples were harvested from 23 adult female sheep, some of whom had received hind-limb vibratory stimuli over the course of 2 years with consequently enhanced mechanical properties. These samples were pooled into a low, medium, or high strength group for further analysis.
The findings show that μCT indices that are structural in nature, e.g., structural model index (SMI) (r2=0.85, p<0.0001) is as good as more density oriented indices like bone volume/total volume (BV/TV) (r2=0.81, p<0.0001) in predicting the ultimate strength of a region of trabecular bone. Additionally, those indices more related to global changes in trabecular structure such as connectivity density (ConnD) or degree of anisotropy (DA) are less able to predict the mechanical poperties of bone. Interrelationships of trabecular indices such as trabecular number (TbN), thickness (TbTh), and spacing (TbSp) provide clues as to how the trabecular bone will remodel to ultimately achieve differences in the apparent mechanical properties. For instance, the analysis showed that a loss of bone primarily affects the connectedness and overall number of trabeculae, while increased strength results in an increase of the overall thickness of trabeculae while not improving the connectedness.
Certainly, the μCT indices studied are able to predict the bulk mechanical properties of a trabecular ROI well, leaving unaccounted only about 15–20% of its inherent variability. Diagnostically, this implies that future work on the early prediction of fracture risk should continue to explore the role of bone quality as the key factors or as an adjuvant to bone quantity (e.g., apparent density).