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Vol. 37 No. 2, March/April 2000

The mechanobiology of cancellous bone structural adaptation

Christopher R. Jacobs, PhD

Musculoskeletal Research Laboratory, Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, Penn State University College of Medicine, Hershey, PA 17033

Abstract — The distinguishing morphological feature of cancellous bone is its high level of porosity relative to cortical bone. This porosity leads to more free surfaces and thus to more of the cellular constituents that inhabit those surfaces. As a result, cancellous bone is often more metabolically active and responsive to stimuli than cortical bone. This extends to the relationship between cancellous bone's internal structure and external mechanical loading. Observational investigations established this relationship as early as the late 19th century. These findings point to the interplay between biology and the cellular mechanical environment, forming the underpinnings of the modern term mechanobiology. Interestingly, it has proven to be more straightforward to assay the biological response than to quantify the precise mechanical environment of cancellous bone and the influence of cancellous bone structure. Despite this concern, significant insights into the nature of cancellous bone mechanobiology can be obtained from computational simulations that allow investigators to determine the morphological consequences of quantitative assumptions about cancellous bone mechanobiology. As the power of computers and the sophistication of these modeling techniques continue to grow, we can expect an increased impact in terms of clinical diagnosis and treatment. The next decade will bring improvements in exercise interventions to prevent and reverse bone loss; improved replacement-joint designs, particularly for those joints currently having poor expected outcomes; and an integration of computer simulation technology with clinical scanners.

Key words: bone adaptation, bone remodeling, cancellous bone, finite element analysis, mechanical properties, mechanobiology.

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