Beauty of science: osteocyte lacuno-canalicular network


Bone gives up its secrets: This image, produced at the ESRF’s ID19 beamline by X-ray micro-tomography, reveals the microstructure of human bone in unprecedented detail.

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Based on a sample from the femur of a 92-year-old female, it shows for the first time over a large field of view the 3D “osteocyte lacuno-canalicular network” – a complex mesh of holes and channels embedded in mineralised bone. By allowing the transport of signals, nutrients and waste, this cell network is what gives bone tissue the ability to locally alter its mass and structure in response to damage or mechanical stress. Until now, however, its 3D organisation and its implications for bone remodelling have remained out of reach. In this image, which represents a volume of around 0.02 mm3, several osteons (the primary functional units of compact bone) can be seen with a large number of cell dendrites emerging radially from the central canal (red). In addition to answering fundamental questions in biology, the technique is likely to be of interest for developing strategies to deal with bone diseases and provides new input for biomechanical modelling. The work was carried out by Alexandra Pacureanu et al. of Creatis INSA Lyon & ESRF and co-workers at the UPMC in Paris (submitted for publication).



This article originally appeared in ESRFnews, July 2012. 

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Top image: Image of the 3D osteocyte lacuno-canalicular network (credit: A. Pacureanu)