The inherent reduction in mechanical loading associated with microgravity has been shown to result in dramatic decreases in the bone mineral density (BMD) and mechanical strength of skeletal tissue. Importantly, there is a concomitant increase in fracture risk during long-duration spaceflight missions. Thus, the objective of this study was to investigate the effects of microgravity loading on long-bone fracture healing in a previously-developed Haversian bone model of simulated microgravity over a 4-week period. For in vivo mechanical evaluation, strains of an implanted orthopaedic fixation plate were quantified for known hindlimb ground reaction forces with a six degree-of-freedom load cell (AMTI, Watertown, MA). In vivo strain measurements demonstrated significantly higher orthopaedic plate strains in the Microgravity Group as compared to the Control Group following the 28-day healing period due to inhibited healing in the microgravity environment. DEXA BMD in the treated metatarsus of the Microgravity Group decreased 17.6% at the time of the ostectomy surgery and decreased an additional 5.4% during the 28-day healing period. Four-point bending stiffness of the Microgravity Group was 4.4 times lower than that of the Control Group (p<0.01), while µCT and histomorphometry demonstrated reduced periosteal callus area, mineralizing surface, mineral apposition rate (p<0.001), bone formation rate, and periosteal/endosteal osteoblast numbers as well as increased periosteal osteoclast number. These data provide strong evidence that the mechanical loading environment dramatically affects the fracture healing cascade and resultant mineralized tissue strength, and that the microgravity loading environment has negative effects on fracture healing in Haversian systems.
Listed In: Biomechanical Engineering, Biomechanics, Mechanical Engineering, Orthopedic Research