It has been established that almost 40% of postmenopausal women in the United States have osteopenia and models to study its prevention are thus urgently needed. Bears (Ursus spp.) displaying winter sleep were previously introduced as promising models to study the treatment of disuse-induced bone loss. The present study examined the potential of another analogous model species, the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), in bone research. Similar to bears, raccoon dogs display prolonged passivity and catabolism in winter, but they are of a moderate body mass, easy to handle and reared on farms. Wild specimens (n=51) were hunted in winter 2007-2008. The bone mineral density of femoral diaphysis and neck was examined with peripheral quantitative computed tomography, after which their mechanical properties were tested with the three-point bending and femoral neck loading tests. A subsample of the specimens was analyzed histologically. While the body mass of the raccoon dogs decreased from 7.0±0.3 to 4.5±0.2 kg (-36%) during winter, the bone mass and biomechanical properties remained unchanged despite of heavy wintertime catabolism similar to bears. Thus, the cortical mineral density remained at approximately 1400 mg/cm(3), the trabecular mineral density at 450 mg/cm(3) and the maximum load of the femoral neck at 700 N. However, in histological samples, the proportion of osteoid perimeter vs. mineralized bone perimeter decreased during wintering. A possible mechanism of bone mass preservation is the endocrine status of overwintering raccoon dogs, which could participate in preventing bone loss.
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