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Keywords:

  • development;
  • fetal;
  • micro-computed tomography;
  • trabecular architecture;
  • trabecular thickness;
  • X-ray micro-tomography

Abstract

It is widely accepted that during postnatal development trabecular bone adapts to the prevailing loading environment via modelling. However, very little is known about the mechanisms (whether it is predominantly modelling or remodelling) or controls (such as whether loading influences development) of fetal bone growth. In order to make inferences about these factors, we assessed the pattern of fetal trabecular development in the humerus and femur via histomorphometric parameter quantification. Growth and development (between 4 and 9 months prenatal) of trabecular architecture (i.e. thickness, number and bone volume fraction) was compared across upper and lower limb bones, proximal and distal regions, and sexes. The data presented here indicate that during prenatal development trabeculae became thicker and less numerous, whilst bone volume fraction remained constant. This partly mimics the pattern of early postnatal development (0–2 years) described by other researchers. Thickness was reported to increase whilst number reduced, but bone volume fraction decreased. This is perhaps because the balance of bone modelling (deposition vs. resorption) changes post partum. Published histological data suggest that bone deposition slows after birth, while resorption rates remain constant. Hence, fetal development may be characterized by relatively high rates of modelling and, particularly, bone deposition in comparison to postnatal. With respect to measures of thickness, number and bone volume fraction prenatal development was not bone, site, or sex specific, whilst postnatally these measures of architecture diverge. This is despite reported developmental variation in the frequency, speed and amplitude of fetal movements (which begin after 11 weeks and continue until birth), and probably therefore loading induced by muscular contractions. This may be because prenatal limb bone micro-architecture follows a generalised predetermined growth trajectory (or genetic blueprint), as appears to be the case for gross distribution of trabecular tissue.