• path analysis;
  • biomechanics;
  • inbred mice;
  • vertebral body;
  • phenotypic integration


Conventional approaches to identifying quantitative trait loci (QTLs) regulating bone mass and fragility are limited because they examine cortical and trabecular traits independently. Prior work examining long bones from young adult mice and humans indicated that skeletal traits are functionally related and that compensatory interactions among morphological and compositional traits are critical for establishing mechanical function. However, it is not known whether trait covariation (i.e., phenotypic integration) also is important for establishing mechanical function in more complex, corticocancellous structures. Covariation among trabecular, cortical, and compositional bone traits was examined in the context of mechanical functionality for L4 vertebral bodies across a panel of 16-wk-old female AXB/BXA recombinant inbred (RI) mouse strains. The unique pattern of randomization of the A/J and C57BL/6J (B6) genome among the RI panel provides a powerful tool that can be used to measure the tendency for different traits to covary and to study the biology of complex traits. We tested the hypothesis that genetic variants affecting vertebral size and mass are buffered by changes in the relative amounts of cortical and trabecular bone and overall mineralization. Despite inheriting random sets of A/J and B6 genomes, the RI strains inherited nonrandom sets of cortical and trabecular bone traits. Path analysis, which is a multivariate analysis that shows how multiple traits covary simultaneously when confounding variables like body size are taken into consideration, showed that RI strains that tended to have smaller vertebrae relative to body size achieved mechanical functionality by increasing mineralization and the relative amounts of cortical and trabecular bone. The interdependence among corticocancellous traits in the vertebral body indicated that variation in trabecular bone traits among inbred mouse strains, which is often thought to arise from genetic factors, is also determined in part by the adaptive response to variation in traits describing the cortical shell. The covariation among corticocancellous traits has important implications for genetic analyses and for interpreting the response of bone to genetic and environmental perturbations.