Technical note: The use of geographical information systems software for the spatial analysis of bone microstructure



Geographic information systems (GIS) software is typically used for analyzing geographically distributed data, allowing users to annotate points or areas on a map and attach data for spatial analyses. While traditional GIS-based research involves geo-referenced data (points tied to geographic locations), the use of this technology has other constructive applications for physical anthropologists. The use of GIS software for the study of bone histology offers a novel opportunity to analyze the distribution of bone nano- and microstructures, relative to macrostructure and in comparison to other variables of interest, such as biomechanical loading history. This approach allows for the examination of characteristics of single histological features while considering their role at the macroscopic level. Such research has immediate promise in examining the load history of bone by surveying the functional relationship between collagen fiber orientation (CFO) and strain mode. The diversity of GIS applications that may be utilized in bone histology research is just beginning to be explored. The goal of this study is to introduce a reliable methodology for such investigation and our objective is to quantify the heterogeneity of bone microstructure over an entire cross-section of bone using ArcGIS v 9.3 (ESRI). This was accomplished by identifying the distribution of remodeling units in a human metatarsal relative to bending axes. One biomechanical hypothesis suggests that CFO, manifested by patterns of birefringence, is indicative of mode of strain during formation. This study demonstrates that GIS can be used to investigate, describe, and compare such patterns through histological mapping. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.