Trabecular bone networks consist of two basic microstructural types: plates and rods. Although trabecular rods represent only a small fraction of total bone volume, their existence has important roles in failure initiation and progression. The goal of this study was to quantitatively examine the contributions of trabecular rods in various orientations to the anisotropic elastic moduli of human vertebral trabecular bone. Twenty-one human vertebral trabecular bone specimens were scanned by microcomputed tomography (μCT). A coordinate system of orthotropic axes representing the best elastic orthotropic symmetry was determined for each sample. Individual trabeculae segmentation (ITS), a 3D image analysis technique, was performed to identify each individual trabecular rod and determine its orientation in the orthotropic coordinate system. Next, three rod-removed images were created where longitudinal, oblique, or transverse trabecular rods were removed, respectively, from the original μCT images. The original and three categories of rod-removed images were then converted to finite element (FE) models for evaluation of their elastic moduli and anisotropy. Both the transverse and oblique rod-removal caused significant decreases in all six elastic moduli. However, the removal of longitudinal rods only caused significant changes in E₃₃, G₂₃, and G₃₁ but not in any transverse/in-plane elastic properties (E₁₁, E₂₂, and G₁₂). The analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) with repeated measures was applied to detect the moduli change in the different models caused by the effects beyond just bone volume loss. The results suggested that the loss of transverse rods induced a significant decrease in in-plane mechanical competence, which was greater than what could be explained only by the associated bone volume loss. In contrast, the reduction in the axial Young's modulus caused by the loss of transverse rods was proportional to the bone volume decrease. Furthermore, the loss of longitudinal rods affected the axial Young's modulus through both bone volume loss and architectural change. With aging, the reduction in in-plane mechanical competence would be magnified by the preferential loss of transverse rods. The predictive ability of bone mineral density, a surrogate of BV/TV in clinical measurements, may reduce more quickly for transverse mechanical properties than for the axial mechanical properties.
Keywords: Bone microstructure; Individual trabeculae segmentation; Microcomputed tomography; Trabecular orientation; Trabecular rod