X-ray microtomography permits the nondestructive investigation of trabecular and cortical bone specimens without special preparation of the sample. To do a quantitative characterization, the cross-section images have to be binarized, separating bone from nonbone. For this purpose, a widely used method is uniform thresholding. However, for commonly available microtomography scanners which use a polychromatic X-ray source, it is unclear what effect the surrounding medium (e.g. air, saline solution, polymethylmethacrylate) has on the threshold value used for the binarization. In the literature an easy procedure to find the optimal uniform threshold value for a given acquisition condition is reported. By applying this procedure, the present work investigated whether a microtomography scan of trabecular bone samples in air or embedded in polymethylmethacrylate gave the same results in terms of structural parameters. The gold standard, that is, histological sections, was used as a reference. Two fixed threshold values were found, one for the microtomography scans performed in air and one for the scans with the same samples embedded in polymethylmethacrylate. These were applied on the correspondent microtomography images for the estimation of structural parameters, such as bone volume fraction, direct trabecular thickness, direct trabecular separation and structure model index. Paired comparisons were made in bone volume fraction between histological sections and microtomography cross-sections for the same bone samples scanned first in air and then embedded in polymethylmethacrylate, by which no significant differences were found. Paired comparisons were also made in bone volume fraction, direct trabecular thickness, direct trabecular separation and structure model index for the same samples over volumes of interest of 4 × 4 × 4 mm3 between microtomography scans in air and scans with the samples embedded in polymethylmethacrylate. Neither these comparisons showed significant differences. This leads to the conclusion that structural parameters estimated by microtomography for human trabecular bone samples scanned either in air or embedded in polymethylmethacrylate are not affected by the surrounding medium (i.e. presence or absence of polymethylmethacrylate), provided that the corresponding optimal threshold value is applied for each acquisition condition.
Keywords: Bone stereology; embedding; microCT; polymethylmethacrylate; thresholding