At birth, mouse vertebrae have a reticular fine spongy morphology, yet in the adult animal they exhibit elaborate trabecular architectures. Here, we characterize the physiological microstructural transformations in growing young female mice of the widely used C57BL/6 strain. Extensive architectural changes lead to the establishment of mature cancellous bone in the spine. Vertebrae were mapped in 3D by high resolution microcomputed tomography (mu CT), backed by conventional histology. Three different phases are observed in the natural bony biomaterial: In a prenatal templating phase, early vertebrae are composed of foamy, loosely-packed mineralized spicules. During a consolidation phase in the first 7 days after birth, bone material condenses into struts and forms primitive trabeculae accompanied by a significant (>50%) reduction in bone volume/tissue volume ratio (BV/TV). After day 7, the trabeculae expand, reorient and increase in mineral density. Swift growth ensues such that by day 14 the young lumbar spine exhibits all morphological features observed in the mature animal. The greatly varied micro-morphologies of normal trabecular bone observed in 3D within a short timespan are typical for rodent and presumably for other mammalian forming spines. This suggests that fully structured cancellous bone emerges through rapid post-natal restructuring of a foamy mineralized scaffold.
Statement of Significance: Cancellous bone develops in stages that are not well documented. Using a mouse model, we provide an observer-independent quantification of normal bone formation in the spine. We find that within 14 days, the cancellous bone transforms in 3 phases from a scaffold of spicules into well organized, fully mineralized trabeculae in a functional spine. Detailed knowledge of the physiological restructuring of mineralized material may help to better understand bone formation and may serve as a blueprint for studies of pharmaceuticals effects, tissue healing and regeneration.