We have previously shown that there are pronounced age-related changes in human vertebral cancellous bone density and microarchitecture. However, the magnitude of these changes seemed to be dependent on zone location in the vertebral body—the central third vs. the areas adjacent to the endplates. The aim of the present study was, therefore, to investigate whether such zone-specific differences could be identified by static histomorphometric measures. The material comprised 48 individuals (24 women aged 19–97 years, and 24 men aged 23–95 years). Three of the women had a known fracture of the L-2. From each L-2, thick frontal sections of half of the vertebra were embedded undecalcified in methylmethacrylate, cut into 10-μm-thick sections, and stained with aniline blue. The sections were scanned into a computer, and classic static histomorphometry was performed on the images. The histomorphometry was performed on both the whole section and on the separate zones (central and sub-endplate zone). The results showed that trabecular bone volume, trabecular number, and connectivity density decreased significantly faster with age, whereas marrow space star volume increased significantly faster with age in the zones adjacent to the endplates than in the central zone. The other histomorphometric measures showed no zone specificity in relation to aging. However, trabecular thickness and trabecular separation were both higher at all ages in the central zone than in the sub-endplate zone, although this was significant only for trabecular separation. The described differences might have significant clinical implications concerning quantitative computed tomography (QCT) scanning, X-ray analyses, and assessment of fracture liability in the human spine, but the underlying pathogenesis is still not known. This study shows that the human vertebral body can be described as two distinct zones with very specific age-related changes in density and microstructure. This zone-specificity is important for the correct interpretation of clinical data.
Keywords: Histomorphometry; Vertebral body; Bone structure; Aging; Spine; Densitometry