Synchrotron radiation micro-CT at the micrometer scale for the analysis of the three-dimensional morphology of microcracks in human trabecular bone

PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e21297. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021297. Epub 2011 Jul 7.


Bone quality is an important concept to explain bone fragility in addition to bone mass. Among bone quality factors, microdamage which appears in daily life is thought to have a marked impact on bone strength and plays a major role in the repair process. The starting point for all studies designed to further our understanding of how bone microdamage initiate or dissipate energy, or to investigate the impact of age, gender or disease, remains reliable observation and measurement of microdamage. In this study, 3D Synchrotron Radiation (SR) micro-CT at the micrometric scale was coupled to image analysis for the three-dimensional characterization of bone microdamage in human trabecular bone specimens taken from femoral heads. Specimens were imaged by 3D SR micro-CT with a voxel size of 1.4 µm. A new tailored 3D image analysis technique was developed to segment and quantify microcracks. Microcracks from human trabecular bone were observed in different tomographic sections as well as from 3D renderings. New 3D quantitative measurements on the microcrack density and morphology are reported on five specimens. The 3D microcrack density was found between 3.1 and 9.4/mm3 corresponding to a 2D density between 0.55 and 0.76 /mm2. The microcrack length and width measured in 3D on five selected microcrack ranged respectively from 164 µm to 209 µm and 100 µm to 120 µm. This is the first time that various microcracks in unloaded human trabecular bone--from the simplest linear crack to more complex cross-hatch cracks--have been examined and quantified by 3D imaging at this scale. The suspected complex morphology of microcracks is here considerably more evident than in the 2D observations. In conclusion, this technique opens new perspective for the 3D investigation of microcracks and the impact of age, disease or treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Femoral Fractures / diagnosis*
  • Femur Head / injuries*
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods*
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Synchrotrons
  • X-Ray Microtomography / methods*