Intracortical remodeling in the adult skeleton removes and replaces areas of compact bone that have sustained microdamage. Although studies have been performed in animal species in which there is an existing baseline of remodeling activity, laboratory rodents have been considered to have limited suitability as models for cortical bone turnover processes because of a lack of haversian remodeling activity. Supraphysiological cyclic axial loading of the ulna in vivo was used to induce bending with consequent fatigue and microdamage. Right ulnae of adult Sprague-Dawley rats were fatigue-loaded to a prefailure stopping point of 30% decrease in ulnae whole bone stiffness. Ten days after the first loading, left ulnae were fatigued in the same way. Ulnae were harvested immediately to allow comparison of the immediate response of the left ulna to the fatigue loads, and the biological response of the right leg to the fatigue challenge. Histomorphometry and confocal microscopy of basic fuchsin-stained bone sections were used to assess intracortical remodeling activity, microdamage, and osteocyte integrity. Bone microdamage (linear microcracks, as well as patches of diffuse basic fuchsin staining within the cortex) occurred in fatigue-loaded ulnar diaphyses. Ten days after fatigue loading, intracortical resorption was activated in ulnar cortices. Intracortical resorption occurred in preferential association with linear-type microcracks, with microcrack number density reduced almost 40% by 10 days after fatigue. Resorption spaces were also consistently observed within areas of the cortex in which no bone matrix damage could be detected. Confocal microscopy studies showed alterations of osteocyte and canalicular integrity around these resorption spaces. These studies reveal that: (1) rat bone undergoes intracortical remodeling in response to high levels of cyclic strain, which induce microdamage in the cortex; and (2) intracortical resorption is associated both with bone microdamage and with regions of altered osteocyte integrity. From these studies, we conclude that rats can initiate haversian remodeling in long bones in response to fatigue, and that osteocyte death or damage may provide one of the stimuli for this process.
Keywords: Bone remodeling; Fatigue; Bone microdamage; Osteocytes; Rat