A 5-mm femoral defect in female but not in male rats leads to a reproducible atrophic non-union

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IntroductionThe objectives of this study were to (1) establish a reproducible atrophic non-union model in rats by creation of a segmental femoral bone defect that allows, (2) in-depth characterization of impaired healing, and (3) contrast its healing patterns to the normal course. Hypothesis was that a 5-mm bone defect in male rats would deviate from uneventful healing patterns and result in an atrophic non-union.Materials and methodsA femoral osteotomy was performed in two groups of 12-week-old male rats (1 vs. 5 mm gap) stabilized with an external fixator. Bone healing in these models was evaluated by radiology, biomechanics, and histology at 6 or 8 weeks. The evaluation of the 5-mm group revealed in some cases a delayed rather than a non-union, and therefore, a group of female counterparts was included.ResultsThe creation of a 5-mm defect in female rats resulted in a reproducible atrophic non-union characterized by sealing of the medullary canal, lack of cartilage formation, and negligible mechanical properties of the callus. In both gap size models, the male subjects showed advanced healing compared to females.Discussion and conclusionThis study showed that even under uneventful healing conditions in terms of age and bone defect size, there is a sex-specific advanced healing in male compared to female subjects. Contrary to our initial hypothesis, only the creation of a 5-mm segmental femoral defect in female rats led to a reproducible atrophic non-union. It has been shown that an atrophic non-union exhibits different healing patterns compared to uneventful healing. A total lack of endochondral bone formation, soft tissue prolapse into the defect, and bony closure of the medullary cavity have been shown to occur in the non-union model.

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