Complex variation of trabecular bone structure in the proximal humerus and femur of five modern human populations

Lily J. Doershuk, Jaap P.P. Saers, Colin N. Shaw, Tea Jashashvili, Kristian J. Carlson, Jay T. Stock, Timothy M. Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Objective: This project investigates trabecular bone structural variation in the proximal humerus and femur of hunter-gatherer, mixed-strategy agricultural, medieval, and human groups to address three questions: (a) What is the extent of trabecular bone structural variation in the humerus and femur between populations with different inferred activity levels? (b) How does variation in the proximal humerus relate to variation in the proximal femur? (c) Are trabecular bone microstructural variables sexually dimorphic?. Methods: The proximal humerus and femur of 73 adults from five human groups with distinct subsistence strategies were scanned using a micro-computed tomography system. Centralized volumes of interest within the humeral and femoral heads were extracted and analyzed to quantify bone volume fraction, trabecular thickness, trabecular separation, connectivity density, degree of anisotropy, and bone surface density. Results: In the humerus and femur, groups with the highest inferred activity levels have higher bone volume fraction and trabecular thickness, and lower bone surface density than those with lower inferred activity levels. However, the humeral pattern does not exactly mirror that of the femur, which demonstrates a steeper gradient of difference between subsistence groups. No significant differences were identified in trabecular separation. No consistent patterns of sexual dimorphism were present in the humerus or femur. Conclusions: Reduced skeletal robusticity of proximal humeral and femoral trabecular bone corresponds with reduced activity level inferred from subsistence strategy. However, human trabecular bone structural variation is complex and future work should explore how other factors (diet, climate, genetics, disease load, etc.), in addition to activity, influence bone structural variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)104-118
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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