Contrast-enhanced micro-computed tomography of fatigue microdamage accumulation in human cortical bone

Matthew D. Landrigan, Jiliang Li, Travis L. Turnbull, David B. Burr, Glen L. Niebur, Ryan K. Roeder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

40 Scopus citations


Conventional methods used to image and quantify microdamage accumulation in bone are limited to histological sections, which are inherently invasive, destructive, two-dimensional, and tedious. These limitations inhibit investigation of microdamage accumulation with respect to volumetric spatial variation in mechanical loading, bone mineral density, and microarchitecture. Therefore, the objective of this study was to investigate non-destructive, three-dimensional (3-D) detection of microdamage accumulation in human cortical bone using contrast-enhanced micro-computed tomography (micro-CT), and to validate micro-CT measurements against conventional histological methods. Unloaded controls and specimens loaded in cyclic uniaxial tension to a 5% and 10% reduction in secant modulus were labeled with a precipitated BaSO4 stain for micro-CT and basic fuchsin for histomorphometry. Linear microcracks were similarly labeled by BaSO4 and basic fuchsin as shown by backscattered electron microscopy and light microscopy, respectively. The higher X-ray attenuation of BaSO4 relative to the bone extracellular matrix provided enhanced contrast for the detection of damage that was otherwise not able to be detected by micro-CT prior to staining. Therefore, contrast-enhanced micro-CT was able to nondestructively detect the presence, 3-D spatial location, and accumulation of fatigue microdamage in human cortical bone specimens in vitro. Microdamage accumulation was quantified on segmented micro-CT reconstructions as the ratio of BaSO4 stain volume (SV) to total bone volume (BV). The amount of microdamage measured by both micro-CT (SV/BV) and histomorphometry (Cr.N, Cr.Dn, Cr.S.Dn) progressively increased from unloaded controls to specimens loaded to a 5% and 10% reduction in secant modulus (p<0.001). Group means for micro-CT measurements of damage accumulation were strongly correlated to those using histomorphometry (p<0.05), validating the new methods. Limitations of the new methods in the present study included that the precipitated BaSO4 stain was non-specific and non-biocompatible, and that micro-CT measurements exhibited greater variability compared to conventional histology. Nonetheless, contrast-enhanced micro-CT enabled non-destructive imaging and 3-D spatial information, which are not possible using conventional histological methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)443-450
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2011



  • Barium sulfate
  • Contrast agent
  • Cortical bone
  • Fatigue microdamage
  • Micro-computed tomography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Histology

Cite this

Landrigan, M. D., Li, J., Turnbull, T. L., Burr, D. B., Niebur, G. L., & Roeder, R. K. (2011). Contrast-enhanced micro-computed tomography of fatigue microdamage accumulation in human cortical bone. Bone, 48(3), 443-450.