• haversian canal area;
  • focal bone balance;
  • bone remodeling;
  • bone circulation;
  • bone yield


It is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for bone to be lost with age at any surface location that during remodeling the replacement of resorbed bone is incomplete. In both the ilium and the rib, the degree of such focal imbalance is smaller on the intracortical than on the endocortical or cancellous surfaces that are adjacent to bone marrow. The reason for this difference is unknown. To further examine this question, we measured various geometric variables in 1263 osteons in rib cross sections from 65 persons, including both sexes and age ranges 20 to 30 years and 60 to 70 years (four groups). Haversian canal (HC) area did not differ significantly between sexes or age groups. Percent osteonal refilling was close to 95% in all groups and did not differ between sexes but fell slightly with age. There was a very highly significant linear relationship between osteon bone area and (osteon area + HC area) in all groups, with coefficients of determination (r2) greater than 0.98. The regression slopes declined slightly with age in women but not in men. There was a very highly significant quadratic relationship between osteon bone area and osteon perimeter in all groups, with r2 values greater than 0.97. The ratio osteon bone area:osteon perimeter, an index of bone yield—the volume of bone deposited on each unit area of cement surface—was strongly related to osteon area and did not differ between sexes but was slightly less in the older groups. We conclude the following: (1) The high efficiency of intracortical remodeling in the rib is confirmed, with only trivial effects of age. (2) For HC area to be maintained within narrow limits and bone balance preserved, either initial osteoblast density or osteoblast capacity (the two determinants of bone yield) or, most likely, both must increase progressively with the size of the resorption cavity, suggesting that osteoblast recruitment (relative to available surface) and osteoblast lifespan increase with the volume of bone resorbed. (3) Intracortical remodeling in the rib is more efficient than marrow-adjacent remodeling at any site, possibly because of the different relationships to the circulation. In osteonal remodeling, all molecules released from resorbed bone must travel past the sites of osteoblast recruitment and operation, but in hemiosteonal remodeling, some molecules may not be subject to this constraint. (4) If marrow-adjacent remodeling became as efficient as rib intracortical remodeling, age-related bone loss would cease to be an important medical problem. © 2010 American Society for Bone and Mineral Research