In human cancellous bone, osteoclastic perforations resulting from normal remodeling were generally considered irreversible. In human vertebral samples, examined by backscatter electron microscopy, there was clear evidence of bridging of perforation defects by new bone formation. Hence trabecular perforations may not be irreversible.

Introduction: Preservation of the trabecular bone microarchitecture is essential to maintain its load-bearing capacity and prevent fractures. However, during bone remodeling, the osteoclasts may perforate the platelike trabeculae and disconnect the structure. Large perforations (>100 μm) are generally considered irreversible because there is no surface on which new bone can be laid down. In this work, we investigated the outcome of these perforations on human vertebral cancellous bone.

Materials and Methods: Using backscatter electron microscopy, we analyzed 264 vertebral bone samples from the thoracic and lumbar spine of nine subjects (44–88 years old). Nine fields (2 × 1.5 mm) were observed on each block. Several bone structural units (BSUs) were visible on a single trabecula, illustrating a dynamic, historical aspect of bone remodeling. A bridge was defined as a single and recent BSU connecting two segments of trabeculae previously separated by osteoclastic resorption. They were counted and measured (length and breadth, μm).

Results and Conclusion: We observed 396 bridges over 2376 images. By comparison, we found only 15 microcalluses on the same material. The median length of the bridge was 165 μm (range, 29–869 μm); 86% being longer than 100 μm and 35% longer than 200 μm. Their breadth was 56 μm (range, 6–255 μm), but the thinnest were still in construction. Bridges were found in all nine subjects included in the study, suggesting that it is a common feature of normal vertebral bone remodeling. These observations support the hypothesis that perforation could be repaired by new bone formation. and hence, might not be systematically irreversible.