Osteocyte lacunae in transiliac bone biopsy samples across life span

Stéphane Blouin, Barbara M Misof, Matthias Mähr, Nadja Fratzl-Zelman, Paul Roschger, Sonja Lueger, Phaedra Messmer, Petra Keplinger, Frank Rauch, Francis H Glorieux, Andrea Berzlanovich, Gerlinde M Gruber, Peter C Brugger, Elizabeth Shane, Robert R Recker, Jochen Zwerina, Markus A Hartmann

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

3 Citations (Scopus)


Osteocytes act as bone mechanosensors, regulators of osteoblast/osteoclast activity and mineral homeostasis, however, knowledge about their functional/morphological changes throughout life is limited. We used quantitative backscattered electron imaging (qBEI) to investigate osteocyte lacunae sections (OLS) as a 2D-surrogate characterizing the osteocytes. OLS characteristics, the density of mineralized osteocyte lacunae (i.e., micropetrotic osteocytes, md.OLS-Density in nb/mm2) and the average degree of mineralization (CaMean in weight% calcium) of cortex and spongiosa were analyzed in transiliac biopsy samples from healthy individuals under 30 (n=59) and over 30 years (n=50) (i.e., before and after the age of peak bone mass, respectively). We found several differences in OLS-characteristics: 1). Inter-individually between the age groups: OLS-Density and OLS-Porosity were reduced by about 20% in older individuals in spongiosa and in cortex versus younger probands (both, p<0.001). 2). Intra-individually between bone compartments: OLS-Density was higher in the cortex, +18.4%, p<0.001 for younger and +7.6%, p<0.05 for older individuals. Strikingly, the most frequent OLS nearest-neighbor distance was about 30 µm in both age groups and at both bone sites revealing a preferential organization of osteocytes in clusters. OLS-Density was negatively correlated with CaMean in both spongiosa and cortex (both, p<0.001). Few mineralized OLS were found in young individuals along with an increase of md.OLS-Density with age. In summary, this transiliac bone sample analysis of 200000 OLS from 109 healthy individuals throughout lifespan reveals several age-related differences in OLS characteristics. Moreover, our study provides reference data from healthy individuals for different ages to be used for diagnosis of bone abnormalities in diseases. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Osteocytes are bone cells embedded in lacunae within the mineralized bone matrix and have a key role in the bone metabolism and the mineral homeostasis. Not easily accessible, we used quantitative backscattered electron imaging to determine precisely number and shape descriptors of the osteocyte lacunae in 2D. We analyzed transiliac biopsy samples from 109 individuals with age distributed from 2 to 95 years. Compact cortical bone showed constantly higher lacunar density than cancellous bone but the lacunar density in both bone tissue decreased with age before the peak bone mass age at 30 years and stabilized or even increased after this age. This extensive study provides osteocyte lacunae reference data from healthy individuals usable for bone pathology diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-287
Number of pages13
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Early online date19 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • 2D-osteocyte lacunae sections (OLS)
  • Micropetrosis
  • Quantitative backscattered electron imaging (qBEI)
  • Transiliac bone biopsy samples

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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