Mechanotransduction in bone: role of strain rate.
Bone tissue can detect and respond to its mechanical environment, but there is no consensus for how bone cells detect mechanical loads. Some think that cells sense tissue deformation (strain) and respond when strain is abnormally high. However, strains in bone tissue are usually very small, and it is questionable whether bone cells are sensitive enough to detect them. Another theory suggests that mechanical loads are coupled to the bone cells by stress-generated fluid flow within the bone tissue, which is dependent on the rate of change of bone strain. We applied bending loads to the tibiae of adult rats to create equivalent peak strains in the bone tissue but with varied rates of strain. Bone formation was significantly increased in the two experimental groups when the highest strain rates were compared with lower strain rates (P < 0.01), and the amount of new bone formation was directly proportional to the rate of strain in the bone tissue. These results suggest that relatively large strains alone are not sufficient to activate bone cells. High strain rates and possibly stress-generated fluid flow are required to stimulate new bone formation.