The enlargement of osteocyte lacunae via osteocytic osteolysis was previously detected in situations of increased calcium demand (e.g., lactation, vitamin D deficiency). However, it is unclear whether similar processes occur also in the growing infantile skeleton and how this is linked to the mineral distribution within the bone matrix. Human iliac crest biopsies of 30 subjects (0–6 months, n = 14; 2–8 years, n = 6 and 18–25 years, n = 10) were acquired. Bone microarchitecture was assessed by micro-CT, while cellular bone histomorphometry was performed on undecalcified histological sections. Quantitative backscattered electron imaging (qBEI) was conducted to determine the bone mineral density distribution (BMDD) as well as osteocyte lacunar size and density. We additionally evaluated cathepsin K positive osteocytes using immunohistochemistry. Infantile bone was characterized by various signs of ongoing bone development such as higher bone (re)modeling, lower cortical and trabecular thickness compared to young adults. Importantly, a significantly higher osteocyte lacunar density and increased lacunar area were detected. Large osteocyte lacunae were associated with a more heterogeneous bone mineral density distribution of the trabecular bone matrix due to the presence of hypermineralized cartilage remnants, whereas the mean mineralization (i.e., CaMean) was not different in infantile bone. Absence of cathepsin K expression in osteocyte lacunae indicated nonexistent osteocytic osteolysis. Taken together, we demonstrated that the overall mineralization distribution in infantile bone is not altered compared to young adults besides high trabecular mineralization heterogeneity. Our study also provides important reference values for bone microstructure, BMDD and osteocyte characteristics in infants, children and young adults. Infantile bone displays large osteocyte lacunae indicating a developmental phenomenon rather than osteocytic osteolysis. Larger osteocytes may have superior mechanosensory abilities to enable bone adaption during growth.
Keywords: Infantile bone; Osteocyte; Osteocytic osteolysis; qBEI; Cathepsin K; Mineralization