Variation in osteocyte lacunar morphology and density in the human femur — a synchrotron radiation micro-CT study Academic Article uri icon


  • In recent years there has been growing interest in the spatial properties of osteocytes (including density and morphology) and how these potentially relate to adaptation, disease and aging. This interest has, in part, arisen from the availability of increasingly high-resolution 3D imaging modalities such as synchrotron radiation (SR) micro-CT. As resolution increases, field of view generally decreases. Thus, while increasingly detailed spatial information is obtained, it is unclear how representative this information is of the skeleton or even the isolated bone. The purpose of this research was to describe the variation in osteocyte lacunar density, morphology and orientation within the femur from a healthy young male human. Multiple anterior, posterior, medial and lateral blocks (2 mm × 2 mm) were prepared from the proximal femoral shaft and SR micro-CT imaged at the Advanced Photon Source. Average lacunar densities (± standard deviation) from the anterior, posterior, medial and lateral regions were 27,169 ± 1935, 26,3643 ± 1262, 37,521 ± 6416 and 33,972 ± 2513 lacunae per mm(3) of bone tissue, respectively. These values were significantly different between the medial and both the anterior and posterior regions (p<0.05). The density of the combined anterior and posterior regions was also significantly lower (p=0.001) than the density of the combined medial and lateral regions. Although no difference was found in predominant orientation, shape differences were found; with the combined anterior and posterior regions having more elongated (p=0.004) and flattened (p=0.045) lacunae, than those of the medial and lateral regions. This study reveals variation in osteocyte lacunar density and morphology within the cross-section of a single bone and that this variation can be considerable (up to 30% difference in density between regions). The underlying functional significance of the observed variation in lacunar density likely relates to localized variations in loading conditions as the pattern corresponds well with mechanical axes. Lower density and more elongate shapes being associated with the antero-posterior oriented neutral axis. Our findings demonstrate that the functional and pathological interpretations that are increasingly being drawn from high resolution imaging of osteocyte lacunae need to be better situated within the broader context of normal variation, including that which occurs even within a single skeletal element.


  • Carter, Yasmin
  • Thomas, C David L
  • Clement, John G
  • Peele, Andrew G
  • Hannah, Kevin
  • Cooper, David ML

publication date

  • January 2013

published in