To investigate whether vertical trabeculae undergo compensatory thickening with age in the human vertebral body, a new computerized method was developed that is able to distinguish between horizontal and vertical trabeculae on normal histological sections. Study subjects included 48 individuals (24 women aged 19–97 years, and 24 men aged 23–95 years). From each L-2, thick frontal sections of half of the vertebra were embedded undecalcified in methylmetacrylate and cut into 10-μm-thick sections. A simple method able to classify image pixels as belonging to either vertical or horizontal trabeculae was developed and implemented in a computer program. The parallel-plate model was modified so that it was able to determine trabecular thickness, number, and separation (Tb.Th, Tb.N, and Tb.Sp) for horizontal and vertical trabeculae separately. The histomorphometric parameters were measured in three different regions: whole section, mid-third, and sub-endplate, for both horizontal and vertical trabeculae. It was found that the trabecular thickness of vertical trabeculae was independent of age in all investigated regions. The thickness of the horizontal trabeculae, in contrast, decreased significantly with age in all these regions. Tb.N decreased significantly with age for both horizontal and vertical trabeculae in all regions. However, the relative loss of trabeculae per unit length was largest for the horizontal trabeculae, whereas the absolute loss of trabeculae per unit length was largest for the vertical trabeculae. Tb.Sp was found to increase significantly with age for both vertical and horizontal trabeculae in all regions. No significant gender-related differences were found. In conclusion, in this study we describe a new, simple method for separation of horizontal and vertical bone tissue. This method has been applied on frontal vertebral sections. Trabecular bone thickness measured with the parallel-plate model showed that the thickness of horizontal trabeculae decreases significantly with age, whereas the thickness of vertical trabeculae did not decrease significantly with age. Furthermore, although the relative loss of trabeculae was larger for horizontal trabeculae than for vertical trabeculae, the absolute loss of vertical trabeculae was higher than that of horizontal trabeculae.
Keywords: Vertebral body; Bone structure; Aging; Thickness; Horizontal trabeculae; Vertical trabeculae