Bone tissue responds to elevated mechanical loading with increased bone formation, which is triggered either directly or indirectly by the mechanical strain engendered in the bone tissue. Previous studies have shown that mechanical strain magnitude must surpass a threshold before bone formation is initiated. The objective of this study was to estimate the strain thresholds at three different locations along the ulna of adult rats. We hypothesized that the strain threshold would be greater in regions of the ulna habitually subjected to larger mechanical strains. New bone formation was measured on the periosteal and endocortical surfaces of the ulnar diaphysis in adult female rats exposed to controlled dynamic loading. Axial, compressive loading was applied daily at five different magnitudes for a period of 2 weeks. Bone formation rate (BFR) was measured, using double-label histomorphometry at the ulnar middiaphysis and at locations 3 mm proximal and 3 mm distal to the middiaphysis. Loading induced lamellar bone formation on the periosteal surface that was greater at the distal ulnar location and lower at the proximal location when compared with the middiaphysis. Likewise, peak strains on the periosteal surface were greatest distally and less proximally. There was a significant dose-response relationship between peak strain magnitude and periosteal new bone formation when the mechanically induced strain surpassed a threshold. The strain threshold varied from 1343 microstrain (μstrain) proximally to 2284 μstrain at the midshaft to 3074 μstrain distally. Unlike the periosteal response to mechanical loading, there was not a clear dose-response relationship between applied load and bone formation on the endocortical surface. Endocortical strains were estimated to be <20% of periosteal strains and may not have been sufficient to initiate a bone formation response. Our results show that the osteogenic response on the periosteal surface of the ulna depends on peak strain level once a strain threshold is surpassed. The threshold strain is largest distally, where locomotor bone strains are typically higher and smallest proximally where locomotor bone strains are lower.
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