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Keywords:

  • high-resolution X-ray computed tomography;
  • primate trabecular bone;
  • stereology;
  • thresholding

Abstract

Different lines of evidence suggest that trabecular bone architecture contains a functional signal related to an organism's locomotor behavior. An understanding of the interspecific and intraspecific variation in extant nonhuman primate trabecular structure is needed to evaluate its usefulness as a tool to reconstruct the locomotor habits of extinct primates. High-resolution X-ray computed tomography (HRXCT) is a new imaging approach with a resolution in the tens of microns that allows nondestructive access to the internal structure of bony elements. Previous studies indicate that such resolution is necessary to accurately quantify structural parameters of trabecular bone.

The primary goal of this study was to test the accuracy of HRXCT by comparing stereological measurements from HRXCT images and histological thin sections of cancellous bone taken from the proximal femur and humerus of baboons. To this end, 11 bone samples were scanned on an HRXCT scanner and then thin-sectioned to reveal the scanned plane. HRXCT images were thresholded using a modified half-maximum height protocol. The stereological measurements included bone volume fraction (BV/TV), trabecular number (Tb.N), bone surface to volume ratio (BS/BV), trabecular thickness (Tb.Th), and trabecular spacing (Tb.Sp). The measurement errors on the HRXCT images were 10.90% for BV/TV, 6.06% for Tb.N, 14.19% for BS/BV, 14.33% for Tb.Th, and 7.09% for Tb.Sp, but none of these measurements were significantly different from the histological standards (α = 0.05).

A second goal of this study was to examine the influence of thresholding, a necessary step in any morphometric study using computed tomography, on the accuracy of the quantitative morphometry. Threshold values derived from a modified half-maximum height protocol showed that parameters derived from the region of interest (area in which stereological measurements were later taken) produced better reconstructions of the actual bone structure than threshold values derived from more inclusive areas of bone.

We conclude that HRXCT can accurately reconstruct the complex architecture of trabecular bone, and that thresholding is a nontrivial step in trabecular bone studies, with even slight changes in the protocol greatly affecting the morphometric data. HRXCT represents a valuable analytical tool that should be of interest to a great many researchers in physical anthropology because it allows nondestructive access to internal morphology, thereby preserving valuable and limited skeletal collections. Am J Phys Anthropol 118:1–10, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.