Three-dimensional reconstruction of Haversian systems in human cortical bone using synchrotron radiation-based micro-CT: morphology and quantification of branching and transverse connections across age

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Radiology

Publication Date


Document Type



Musculoskeletal System | Radiology


This study uses synchrotron radiation-based micro-computed tomography (CT) scans to reconstruct three-dimensional networks of Haversian systems in human cortical bone in order to observe and analyse interconnectivity of Haversian systems and the development of total Haversian networks across different ages. A better knowledge of how Haversian systems interact with each other is essential to improve understanding of remodeling mechanisms and bone maintenance; however, previous methodological approaches (e.g. serial sections) did not reveal enough detail to follow the specific morphology of Haversian branching, for example. Accordingly, the aim of the present study was to identify the morphological diversity of branching patterns and transverse connections, and to understand how they change with age. Two types of branching morphologies were identified: lateral branching, resulting in small osteon branches bifurcating off of larger Haversian canals; and dichotomous branching, the formation of two new osteonal branches from one. The reconstructions in this study also suggest that Haversian systems frequently target previously existing systems as a path for their course, resulting in a cross-sectional morphology frequently referred to as 'type II osteons'. Transverse connections were diverse in their course from linear to oblique to curvy. Quantitative assessment of age-related trends indicates that while in younger human individuals transverse connections were most common, in older individuals more evidence of connections resulting from Haversian systems growing inside previously existing systems was found. Despite these changes in morphological characteristics, a relatively constant degree of overall interconnectivity is maintained throughout life. Altogether, the present study reveals important details about Haversian systems and their relation to each other that can be used towards a better understanding of cortical bone remodeling as well as a more accurate interpretation of morphological variants of osteons in cross-sectional microscopy. Permitting visibility of reversal lines, synchrotron radiation-based micro-CT is a valuable tool for the reconstruction of Haversian systems, and future analyses have the potential to further improve understanding of various important aspects of bone growth, maintenance and health.


Haversian system, age, branching, cortical bone, micro-CT, osteon, synchrotron, three-dimensional

DOI of Published Version



J Anat. 2016 May;228(5):719-32. doi: 10.1111/joa.12430. Epub 2016 Jan 7. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of anatomy

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID