The adaptation of trabecular bone microstructure to mechanical loads has been intensively investigated. However, loading-unrelated aspects of trabecular architecture remain unclear. We used synchrotron radiation-based X-ray microtomography to study the 3D microarchitecture of newly formed trabecular tissue in a defect produced in the cortical region of the rat tibia diaphysis, in the absence (7, 14, and 21 days) or the presence (21 days) of carbonated hydroxyapatite/alginate (cHA) microspheres. This work provides the first evidence that the woven bone trabecular network, formed during the healing process, displays a well-organized 3D microarchitecture consisting of nodes with 3 (3-N), 4 (4-N) and 5 (5-N) connecting trabeculae, with a mean relative abundance of (3-N)/(4-N)/(5-N) = 66/24/7, for the analyzed periods. The measured inter-trabecular angles (ITA) distribution presented a Gaussian profile, with mean value at 115° for 3-N nodes, and 105° for 4-N nodes, close to the angles of idealized 3D regular structures (120° and 109.5°, respectively). Changes in the dispersion of ITA distribution suggested that a highly symmetric trabecular fabric organized under tensegrity principles is formed early during the bone healing process. Post-implantation, cHA disaggregated into multiple fragments (~20–400 μm), stimulating osteoconduction and bone growth toward the interior of the medullary cavity. The presence of biomaterials in bone defects affected the trabecular dimensions; however, it did not interfere with the formation of geometrical motifs with topological parameters similar to those found in the sham-defects.
Statement of Significance: The trabecular bone microstructure enables the tissue to meet the necessary mechanical and functional demands. However, the process of trabecular microarchitecture formation during healing, in the absence or presence of a bone graft, is not yet well understood. This work demonstrated that, from the begin- ning of its formation in cortical bone defects, the woven-bone trabecular network is spatially organized according to the principle of tensegrity. This microarchitecture is comprised of highly symmetric geo- metric motifs and is an intrinsic characteristic of trabecular growth, regardless of hierarchical scale or mechanical stimulation. The addition of a biodegradable nanostructured calcium phosphate graft did not disrupt trabecular microarchitecture; however, graft biodegradation should be controlled to optimize the reproduction of intrinsic trabecular motifs throughout the defect.
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