Cortical and Trabecular Bone Mineral Loss From the Spine and Hip in Long-Duration Spaceflight


  • The authors have no conflict of interest


We measured cortical and trabecular bone loss using QCT of the spine and hip in 14 crewmembers making 4- to 6-month flights on the International Space Station. There was no compartment-specific loss of bone in the spine. Cortical bone mineral loss in the hip occurred primarily by endocortical thinning.

Introduction: In an earlier study, areal BMD (aBMD) measurements by DXA showed that cosmonauts making flights of 4- to 12-month duration on the Soviet/Russian MIR spacecraft lost bone at an average rate of 1%/month from the spine and 1.5%/month from the hip. However, because DXA measurements represent the sum of the cortical and trabecular compartments, there is no direct information on how these bone envelopes are affected by spaceflight.

Materials and Methods: To address this, we performed a study of crewmembers (13 males and 1 female; age range, 40-55 years) on long-duration missions (4-6 months) on the International Space Station (ISS). We used DXA to obtain aBMD of the hip and spine and volumetric QCT (vQCT) to assess integral, cortical, and trabecular volumetric BMD (vBMD) in the hip and spine. In the heel, DXA was used to measure aBMD, and quantitative ultrasound (QUS) was used to measure speed of sound (SOS) and broadband ultrasound attenuation (BUA).

Results and Conclusions: aBMD was lost at rates of 0.9%/month at the spine (p < 0.001) and 1.4-1.5%/month at the hip (p < 0.001). Spinal integral vBMD was lost at a rate of 0.9%/month (p < 0.001), and trabecular vBMD was lost at 0.7%/month (p < 0.05). In contrast to earlier reports, these changes were generalized across the vertebrae and not focused in the posterior elements. In the hip, integral, cortical, and trabecular vBMD was lost at rates of 1.2-1.5%/month (p < 0.0001), 0.4-0.5%/month (p < 0.01), and 2.2-2.7%/month (p < 0.001), respectively. The cortical bone loss in the hip occurred primarily by cortical thinning. Calcaneal aBMD measurements by DXA showed smaller mean losses (0.4%/month) than hip or spine measurements, with SOS and BUA showing no change. In summary, our results show that ISS crewmembers, on average, experience substantial loss of both trabecular and cortical bone in the hip and somewhat smaller losses in the spine. These results do not support the use of calcaneal aBMD or QUS measurements as surrogate measures to estimate changes in the central skeleton.