Age-related changes in the microstructure of trabecular bone, such as decreases in trabecular number and trabecular thickness, lead to reductions in mechanical properties, such as Young’s modulus and strength. Current drug therapy, such as bisphosphonate or parathyroid hormone, improves the mechanical properties of bone mainly by increasing the trabecular thickness, but not increasing the trabecular number. However, the mechanical efficacy of these treatments has not been fully quantified using trabecular bone models. In this study, we used an idealized three-dimensional (3D) microstructural model of trabecular bone to create bone loss either through trabeculae thinning or random removal of trabeculae, and simulated treatment by increasing the trabeculae thickness of the remaining trabeculae. The reduction in either the Young’s modulus or the strength due to trabeculae loss was proportional to a much higher power of reduction in bone volume fraction than due to trabeculae thinning. This indicates that bone loss due to trabeculae loss is much more detrimental to Young’s modulus and strength of trabecular bone than due to trabeculae thinning, indicating the importance of trabecular number and connectivity in the mechanical integrity of trabecular bone. In general, treatments by increasing the trabecular thickness of remaining trabeculae after trabeculae loss cannot fully recover the initial mechanical properties of intact bone, even if bone loss is fully recovered, whereas trabecular thickening can fully restore the mechanical properties after bone loss by trabeculae thinning. The results also show that the residual loss in mechanical properties is dependent on the extent of trabeculae loss.
Keywords: Trabecular bone; Finite element model; Microstructure; Mechanical properties; Osteoporosis; Pharmaceutical treatment