Vascular canals in cortical bone during growth and development typically show an anisotropic pattern with canals falling into three main categories: circumferential, radial, and longitudinal. Two major hypotheses attempt to explain the preferred orientations in bone: that vascular canal orientation is optimized to resist a predominant strain direction from functional loading, or that it reflects growth requirements and velocity. We use a controlled growth experiment in broiler chickens to investigate the effect of growth rate on vascular canal orientation. Using feed restriction we set up a fast growing control group and a slow growing restricted group. We compared the microstructure in the humerus and the femur at 42 days of age using synchrotron micro-computed tomography (micro-CT), a three-dimensional (3D) method that visualizes the full canal network. We measured the 3D orientation of each canal in the whole cross-section of the bone cortex using a set of custom ImageJ scripts. Using these orientations we compute laminar, radial, and longitudinal indices that measure the proportion of circumferential, radial, and longitudinal canals, by unit of length, in the cortex. Following previous studies we hypothesized that vascular canal orientation is related to growth, with radial canals linked to a faster growth rate and related to functional loading through a high laminar index in flight bones which reflects torsional loading resulting from active flight. The control group had final body weights that were nearly twice the final weights of the restricted group and higher absolute growth rates. We found consistent patterns in the comparison between the humerus and the femur in both groups, with the humerus having higher laminar and longitudinal indices, and a lower radial index than the femur. The control group had higher radial indices and lower laminar and longitudinal indices in both the humerus and the femur than the restricted group. The higher radial indices in our control group point to a link between radial canals and faster growth, and between laminar canals and slower growth, while the higher laminar indices in the humerus point to a link between circumferential canals and torsional loading. Overall, our results indicate that the orientation of the cortical canal network in a bone is the consequence of a complex interaction between the growth rate of that bone and functional loading environment.
Keywords: Micro-CT; bone microstructure; bone vascularity; laminar bone.
© 2018 The Authors. Journal of Anatomy published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Anatomical Society.