The relationship between trabecular thinning and loss of connectedness of the trabecular bone pattern has been studied in iliac crest bone samples from 89 normal subjects in order to determine the structural mechanisms underlying age-related bone loss. Trabecular width and structure were quantitatively assessed using computerized techniques. Highly significant negative correlations were found between the mean trabecular plate thickness and number of free ends/mm2 both in males (r = -0.571) and in females (r = -0.667) (P less than 0.001). Mean trabecular plate thickness also showed significant negative correlations with other structural indices indicating reduced connectedness, whereas positive correlations were found with those indices representing preservation of connectedness. Examination of the relative frequency of trabecular widths less than 100 microns revealed that only 2-5% of the trabecular surface would be susceptible to erosion by a resorption cavity of normal depth. These results indicate that trabecular thinning and erosion are interdependent processes in age-related bone loss. Since only a small percentage of the trabecular surface is susceptible to erosion, and resorption cavities normally occupy only 1-5% of the total trabecular surface, these findings imply that the site of activation of new BMUs may not be randomly distributed but may instead be preferentially located at sites of lower trabecular width.