• trabecular bone;
  • steroid therapy;
  • fractal analysis;
  • microarchitecture;
  • calcaneus radiographs


The relative roles of bone mineral density (BMD) decrease and of microarchitectural changes in corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis (CIOP) are debated. Our objective has been to evaluate both bone microarchitecture (by a fractal analysis of texture on radiographs) and BMD in corticosteroid (CS)-treated patients. In this study, 60 patients from a rheumatology unit with a mean age of 60.6 ± 14.8 years taking CS therapy for more than 6 months and a cumulative dose of prednisone over 1 g and 57 controls among age-matched patients and hospital staff were recruited. Bone diseases and bone-modifying drugs (except calcium, vitamin D, and hormonal replacement therapy [HRT]) were considered as exclusion criteria. A fractal analysis of trabecular bone texture was performed on calcaneus radiographs after an oriented analysis in 18 directions. The fractal analysis was based on the fractional Brownian motion model Results were expressed by H parameter (H = 2 – fractal dimension) in each direction, Hmean being the average of 18 directions, Hmini the minimum, and Hmaxi the maximum. BMD was measured by double-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) at the femoral neck (FN) and lumbar spine (LS). The odds ratios (OR) were calculated for a variation of 1 SD. The mean duration and dose of CS therapy was 5.6 ± 6.6 years and 16.9 ± 19.7 g. CS therapy was significantly correlated to a decrease in FN or LSBMD: OR = 1.95,95% confidence interval (CI, 1.29–2.97) and OR = 3.19 (CI, 1.80–5.66), respectively. The Hmean and Hmaxi were significantly lower in the cases than in the controls: P = 0.03 and P = 0.02; OR = 1.67 (CI, 1.10–2.54) and OR = 1.75 (CI, 1.05–2.37). A similar trend was observed with Hmini but the difference did not reach the level of statistical significance: P = 0.06, OR = 1.57 (CI, 1.05–2.37). This study was repeated among cases and controls who had never taken HRT (respectively, n = 40 and n = 39). The results were similar. Among patients taking CS therapy, the presence of nontraumatic fractures was inversely related to BMD values but not to texture parameters. These data have shown that long-term CS therapy induces both BMD decrease and trabecular bone texture changes. The effect of CS therapy was much stronger on BMD than on the fractal H parameter. These results are in accordance with previous studies showing a lower effect of CS therapy on bone microarchitecture than on bone mass. These results can be contrasted with those observed in women with postmenopausal osteoporosis and vertebral crush fractures in which the variations in the fractal parameters are more significant than the BMD variations.