Microcrack Density and Nanomechanical Properties in the Subchondral Region of the Immature Piglet Femoral Head following Ischemic Osteonecrosis


Olumide O. Aruwajoye, Mihir K. Patel, Matthew R. Allen, David B. Burr, Pranesh B. Aswath, Harry K.W. Kim


Development of a subchondral fracture is one of the earliest signs of structural failure of the immature femoral head following ischemic osteonecrosis, and this eventually leads to a flattening deformity of the femoral head. The mechanical and mineralization changes in the femoral head preceding subchondral fracture have not been elucidated. We hypothesized that ischemic osteonecrosis leads to early material and mechanical alterations in the bone of the subchondral region. The purpose of this investigation was to assess the bone of the subchondral region for changes in the histology of bone cells, microcrack density, mineral content, and nanoindentation properties at an early stage of ischemic osteonecrosis in a piglet model. This large animal model has been shown to develop a subchondral fracture and femoral head deformity resembling juvenile femoral head osteonecrosis. The unoperated, left femoral head of each piglet (n = 8) was used as a normal control, while the right side had a surgical ischemia induced by disrupting the femoral neck vessels with a ligature. Hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining and TUNEL assay were performed on femoral heads from 3 piglets. Quantitative backscattered electron imaging, nanoindentation, and microcrack assessments were performed on the subchondral region of both control and ischemic femoral heads from 5 piglets. H&E staining and TUNEL assay showed extensive cell death and an absence of osteoblasts in the ischemic side compared to the normal control. Microcrack density in the ischemic side (3.2 ± 0.79 cracks/mm2) was significantly higher compared to the normal side (0.27 ± 0.27 cracks/mm2) in the subchondral region (p < 0.05). The weighted mean of the weight percent distribution of calcium (CaMean) also was significantly higher in the ischemic subchondral region (p < 0.05). Furthermore, the nanoindentation modulus within localized areas of subchondral bone was significantly increased in the ischemic side (16.8 ± 2.7 GPa) compared to the normal control (13.3 ± 3.2 GPa) (p < 0.05). Taken together, these results support the hypothesis that the nanoindentation modulus of the subchondral trabecular bone is increased in the early stage of ischemic osteonecrosis of the immature femoral head and makes it more susceptible to microcrack formation. We postulate that continued loading of the hip joint when there is a lack of bone cells to repair the microcracks due to ischemic osteonecrosis leads to microcrack accumulation and subsequent subchondral fracture.

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