The Utility of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Software for the Spatial Analysis of Bone Microstructure

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American Journal of Physical Anthropology





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Histological analyses of bone microstructure can reveal information health and disease, biomechanical forces acting on tissues, or even help in the identification of an individual through estimation of their age-at-death. Historically, however, histological analyses have used very small regions of interest (ROIs). Recently, geographic information systems (GIS) software, combined with improved imaging and computing capabilities, has allowed for more thorough analyses of complete bone cross-sections than previously possible. This presentation will survey examples of these advances from a series of studies examining the femoral midshaft. Thirty complete cross-sections from modern cadaveric donors were examined, 15 of each sex, ranging from 21-97 years old. Seamless cross-sectional images were imported into ArcGIS for analysis, where polygon features were used to segment the cortex into ROIs, and point features were used to mark histological variables, such as remodeling events. Spatial imaging and analysis of histological variables revealed significant spatial patterning of remodeling density, elucidating that the anterolateral region of the femur is more subject to tensile loading than the anteromedial region. Further analyses revealed that ROI size has a direct impact on estimating age-at-death, and that small ROIs are not recommended. Lastly, new models for estimating age, informed by the spatial analysis in GIS, demonstrate that histological analysis of the femoral midshaft can estimate age-at-death into the tenth decade of life with an average error of less than six years. The use of GIS for spatial analysis of bone microstructure is still a novel one, but demonstrates much promise.


Biological and Physical Anthropology