Although the mechanical strength of cancellous bone is well known to depend on its apparent density, little is known about the influence of other structural or biochemical parameters. This study specifically investigates the cross‐linking of the collagen in human vertebral bone samples and its potential influence on their mechanical behavior. Multiple cylindrical samples were cored vertically in the vertebral bodies of nine subjects (aged 44–88 years). Three spinal levels (T9, T12 or L1, and L4) and three sample sites within a vertebral body (anterior, posterior, and lateral) were used, for a total of 68 samples. The density was measured with peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT) and all cylinders were mechanically tested in compression. After mechanical testing, they were unmounted and used for biochemical analysis. The amount of collagen (wt/wt of bone) and its content in reduced immature cross‐links, that is, hydroxylysinonorleucine (HLNL, mol/mol of collagen) and dihydroxylysinornorleucine (DHLNL), as well as stable mature cross‐links, that is, hydroxylysyl‐pyridinoline (HP), lysyl‐pyridinoline (LP), and pyrrole cross‐link were determined for each cylinder. None of the biochemical parameters correlated to the density. On multiple linear regression, the prediction of the mechanical properties was improved by combining density data with direct collagen cross‐link assessment. The HP/LP ratio appeared as a significant predictor to the strength (r = 0.40; p = 0.001) and stiffness (r = 0.47; p < 0.001) samples with a high HP/LP ratio being stronger and stiffer. Additionally, the ultimate strain correlated to the HP or LP concentration (r = 0.38 or 0.49; p < 0.01). Different subjects had different HP/LP ratios and different HP or LP concentrations in their vertebral bone samples, and the location of origin within a subject had no influence on the concentration. These observations suggest that the nature of the organic matrix in adult vertebral bone is variable and that these variations influence its mechanical competence.
Keywords: cancellous bone; mechanical properties; vertebral body; type I collagen; cross-link