Yellow-bellied Marmots (Marmota flaviventris) preserve bone strength and microstructure during hibernation


Samantha J. Wojda, Meghan McGee-Lawrence, Richard A. Gridley, Janene Auger, Hal L. Black, Seth W. Donahue


Reduced skeletal loading typically results in decreased bone strength and increased fracture risk for humans and many other animals. Previous studies have shown bears are able to prevent bone loss during the disuse that occurs during hibernation. Studies with smaller hibernators, which arouse intermittently during hibernation, show that they may lose bone at the microstructural level. These small hibernators, like bats and squirrels, do not utilize intracortical remodeling. However, slightly larger mammals like marmots do. In this study we examined the effects of hibernation on bone structural, mineral, and mechanical properties in yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris). This was done by comparing cortical bone properties in femurs and trabecular bone properties in tibias from marmots killed before hibernation (fall) and after hibernation (spring). Age data were not available for this study; however, based on femur length the post-hibernation marmots were larger than the pre-hibernation marmots. Thus, cross-sectional properties were normalized by allometric functions of bone length for comparisons between pre- and post-hibernation. Cortical thickness and normalized cortical area were higher in post-hibernation samples; no other normalized cross-sectional properties were different. No cortical bone microstructural loss was evident in osteocyte lacunar measurements, intracortical porosity, or intracortical remodeling cavity density. Osteocyte lacunar area, porosity, and density were surprisingly lower in post-hibernation samples. Trabecular bone volume fraction was not different between pre- and post-hibernation. Measures of both trabecular and cortical bone mineral content were higher in post-hibernation samples. Three-point bending failure load, failure energy, elastic energy, ultimate stress, and yield stress were all higher in post-hibernation samples. These results support the idea that, like bears, marmots are able to prevent disuse osteoporosis during hibernation, thus preventing increased fracture risk and promoting survival of the extreme environmental conditions that occur in hibernation.

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