The cast imaging of the osteon lacunar-canalicular system and the implications with functional models of intracanalicular flow



Ugo E. Pazzaglia, Department of Specialità Chirurgiche, Scienze Radiologiche, Mediche e Sanità Pubblica, Orthopaedic Clinic of the University of Brescia, Brescia, Italy. T: 0039 030 393832; F: 0039 030 397365; E:


A casting technique with methyl-methacrylate (MMA) was applied to the study of the osteon lacunar-canalicular network of human and rabbit cortical bone. The MMA monomer infiltration inside the vascular canals and from these into the lacunar-canalicular system was driven by capillarity, helped by evaporation and the resulting negative pressure in a system of small pipes. There was uniform, centrifugal penetration of the resin inside some osteons, but this was limited to a depth of four to five layers of lacunae. Moreover, not all of the osteon population was infiltrated. This failure can be the result of one of two factors: the incomplete removal of organic debris from the canal and canalicular systems, and lack of drainage at the osteon external border. These data suggest that each secondary osteon is a closed system with a peripheral barrier (represented by the reversal line). As the resin advances into the osteon, the air contained inside the canalicula is compressed and its pressure increases until infiltration is stopped. The casts gave a reliable visualization of the lacunar shape, position and connections between the lacunae without the need for manipulations such as cutting or sawing. Two systems of canalicula could be distinguished, the equatorial, which connected the lacunae (therefore the osteocytes) lying on the same concentric level, and the radial, which established connections between different levels. The equatorial canalicula radiated from the lacunar border forming ramifications on a planar surface around the lacuna, whereas the radial canalicula had a predominantly straight direction perpendicular to the equatorial plane. The mean length of the radial canalicula was 40.12 ± 10.26 μm in rabbits and 38.4 ± 7.35 μm in human osteons; their mean diameter was 174.4 ± 71.12 nm and 195.7 ± 79.58 nm, respectively. The mean equatorial canalicula diameter was 237 ± 66.04 nm in rabbit and 249.7 ± 73.78 nm in human bones, both significantly larger (< 0.001) than the radial. There were no significant differences between the two species. The lacunar surface measured on the equatorial plane was higher in rabbit than in man, but the difference was not statistically significant. The cast of the lacunar-canalicular network obtained with the reported technique allows a direct, 3-D representation of the system architecture and illustrates how the connections between osteocytes are organized. The comparison with models derived by the assumption of the role of hydraulic conductance and other mechanistic functions provides descriptive, morphological data to the ongoing discussion on the Haversian system biology.