Strain amplification in bone mechanobiology: a computational investigation of the in vivo mechanics of osteocytes

A study demonstrating that the geometry of the osteocyte environment alone amplifies strain stimulation to the cell, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface in 2012 and available here.



The osteocyte is believed to act as the main sensor of mechanical stimulus in bone, controlling signalling for bone growth and resorption in response to changes in the mechanical demands placed on our bones throughout life. However, the precise mechanical stimuli that bone cells experience in vivo are not yet fully understood. The objective of this study is to use computational methods to predict the loading conditions experienced by osteocytes during normal physiological activities. Confocal imaging of the lacunar–canalicular network was used to develop three-dimensional finite element models of osteocytes, including their cell body, and the surrounding pericellular matrix (PCM) and extracellular matrix (ECM). We investigated the role of the PCM and ECM projections for amplifying mechanical stimulation to the cells. At loading levels, representing vigorous physiological activity (3000 µɛ), our results provide direct evidence that (i) confocal image-derived models predict 350–400% greater strain amplification experienced by osteocytes compared with an idealized cell, (ii) the PCM increases the cell volume stimulated more than 3500 µɛ by 4–10% and (iii) ECM projections amplify strain to the cell by approximately 50–420%. These are the first confocal image-derived computational models to predict osteocyte strain in vivo and provide an insight into the mechanobiology of the osteocyte.