Brainy Bones: Monash research reveals that our skeleton is a lot like our brain

For the first time researchers at Monash University and St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne have used mathematical modelling combined with advanced imaging technology to calculate the number and connectivity of the osteocyte network in the human skeleton. 

Osteocytes are the living cells within bones that make up a living network through the skeleton. They play an important role in sensing mechanical strain, regulating calcium levels in the bloodstream and orchestrating bone tissue renewal.

Dr Pascal Buenzli says “taking recent imaging data, we have calculated that the human skeleton contains about 42 billion osteocytes. That’s about six times the earth’s population.”

The measurements obtained by the researchers indicated that the skeleton is quite like the brain, with a similar number of cells interconnected in a similar sized space. Whilst little is known about why our skeletons need such a complex network of osteocytes, these findings mark a significant step towards finding better treatments for skeletal disorders such as osteoporosis.

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