The exact aetiology and pathogenesis of microdamage-induced long bone fractures remain unknown. These fractures are likely to be the result of inadequate bone remodelling in response to damage. This study aims to identify an association of osteocyte apoptosis, the presence of osteocytic osteolysis, and any alterations in sclerostin expression with a fracture of the third metacarpal (Mc-III) bone of Thoroughbred racehorses.
A total of 30 Mc-III bones were obtained; ten bones were fractured during racing, ten were from the contralateral limb, and ten were from control horses. Each Mc-III bone was divided into a fracture site, condyle, condylar groove, and sagittal ridge. Microcracks and diffuse microdamage were quantified. Apoptotic osteocytes were measured using TUNEL staining. Cathepsin K, matrix metalloproteinase-13 (MMP-13), HtrA1, and sclerostin expression were analyzed.
In the fracture group, microdamage was elevated 38.9% ( sd 2.6) compared with controls. There was no difference in the osteocyte number and the percentage of apoptotic cells between contralateral limb and unraced control; however, there were significantly fewer apoptotic cells in fractured samples (p < 0.02). Immunohistochemistry showed that in deep zones of the fractured samples, sclerostin expression was significantly higher (p < 0.03) than the total number of osteocytes. No increase in cathepsin K, MMP-13, or HtrA1 was present.
There is increased microdamage in Mc-III bones that have fractured during racing. In this study, this is not associated with osteocyte apoptosis or osteocytic osteolysis. The finding of increased sclerostin in the region of the fracture suggests that this protein may be playing a key role in the regulation of bone microdamage during stress adaptation.
Cite this article: N. Hopper, E. Singer, F. Henson. Increased sclerostin associated with stress fracture of the third metacarpal bone in the Thoroughbred racehorse. Bone Joint Res 2018;7:94–102. DOI: 10.1302/2046-3758.71.BJR-2016-0202.R4.