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Abstract

The rat tibia four-point bending model is a new mechanical loading model in which force is applied through external pads to the rat lower limb. The advantages of the model are controlled force application to a well-defined bone, noninvasive external loading, and the addition of loads to normal daily activity. A disadvantage of the model is that the pads create local pressure on the leg at the contact sites. This study examined the differences in tibial response to bending strains and to local pressure under the pads. A total of 30 adult Sprague-Dawley rats were randomized into three external loading groups: bending, cyclic pressure, and static pressure. The right leg of each rat was externally loaded to create either bending or local pressure without bending; the left leg served as a control. Strains on the lateral surface averaged 1200 μϵ in compression during bending load application and <200 μϵ in compression during pressure loading. Histomorphometric data were collected from three regions: the maximal bending region, under the loading pads, and outside the maximal bending region. In the maximal bending region, bending loads created greater mineral apposition rate (MAR) on the lateral surface and greater MAR and formation surface on the medial surface of loaded than control tibiae. The region under the bending pad was exposed to similar bending strains and showed the same pattern of increased MAR as sections from the maximal bending region. Cyclic pressure had no effect on periosteal MAR or formation surface. Static pressure increased MAR only on the lateral tibial surface. Bending stimulates bone formation in regions with the highest bending strains. Similar forces applied only in the form of pressure loading do not stimulate tibial formation either at the contact site or between loading pads. These results suggest that externally applied forces of moderate magnitude stimulate bone formation primarily as a result of increased bending strains, not local pressure at the contact site.