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The osteoblast    is the bone cell responsible for forming new bone and is found in the growing portions of bone, including the periosteum and endosteum. Osteoblasts, which do not divide, synthesize and secrete the collagen matrix and calcium salts. As the secreted matrix surrounding the osteoblast hardens, the osteoblast become trapped within it; as a result, it changes in structure and becomes an osteocyte    This is the primary cell of mature bone and the most common type of bone cell. Each osteocyte is located in a space called a lacuna and is surrounded by bone tissue. Osteocytes maintain the mineral concentration of the matrix via the secretion of enzymes. They can communicate with each other and receive nutrients via long cytoplasmic processes that extend through canaliculi    (singular = canaliculus), channels within the bone matrix.

Osteoblasts and osteocytes are incapable of mitosis or cell division, then how are they replenished when old ones die? The answer lies in the properties of a third category of bone cells—the osteogenic cell    . These osteogenic cells are similar to stem cells and they are the only bone cells that divide. Immature osteogenic cells are found in the deep layers of the periosteum and the marrow. They differentiate and develop into osteoblasts.

The dynamic nature of bone means that new tissue is constantly formed, and old, injured, or unnecessary bone is dissolved for repair or for calcium release. The cell responsible for bone resorption, or breakdown, is the osteoclast    . They are found on bone surfaces, are multinucleated, and originate from monocytes and macrophages, two types of white blood cells, not from osteogenic cells. Osteoclasts are continually breaking down old bone while osteoblasts are continually forming new bone. The ongoing balance between osteoblasts and osteoclasts is responsible for the constant but subtle reshaping of bone. [link] reviews the bone cells, their functions, and locations.

Bone Cells
Cell type Function Location
Osteogenic cells Develop into osteoblasts Deep layers of the periosteum and the marrow
Osteoblasts Bone formation Growing portions of bone, including periosteum and endosteum
Osteocytes Maintain mineral concentration of matrix Entrapped in matrix
Osteoclasts Bone resorption Bone surfaces and at sites of old, injured, or unneeded bone

Compact and spongy bone

The differences between compact and spongy bone are best explored via their histology. Most bones contain compact and spongy osseous tissue, but their distribution and concentration vary based on the bone’s overall function. Compact bone is dense so that it can withstand compressive forces, while spongy or(cancellous) bone has open spaces and supports shifts in weight distribution.

Compact bone

Compact bone is the denser, stronger of the two types of bone tissue ( [link] ). It can be found under the periosteum and in the diaphyses of long bones, where it provides support and protection.

Diagram of compact bone

A generic long bone is shown at the top of this illustration. The bone is split in half lengthwise to show its internal anatomy. The outer gray covering of the bone is labeled the periosteum. Within the periosteum is a thin layer of compact bone. The compact bone surrounds a central cavity called the medullary cavity. The medullary cavity is filled with spongy bone at the two epiphyses. A callout box shows that the main image is zooming in on the compact bone on the left side of the bone. On the main image, the periosteum is being peeled back to show its two layers. The outer layer of the periosteum is the outer fibrous layer. This layer has a periosteal artery and a periosteal vein running along its outside edge. The inner layer of the periosteum is labeled the inner osteogenic layer. The compact bone lies to the right of the periosteum and occupies the majority of the main image. Two flat layers of compact bone line the inner surface of the ostegenic periosteum. These sheets of compact bone are called the circumferential lamellae. The majority of the compact bone has lamellae running perpendicular to that of the circumferential lamellae. These concentric lamellae are arranged in a series of concentric tubes. There are small cavities between the layers of concentric lamellae called lacunae. The centermost concentric lamella surrounds a hollow central canal. A blue vein, a red artery, a yellow nerve and a green lymph vessel run vertically through the central canal. A set of concentric lamellae, its associated lacunae and the vessels and nerves of the central canal are collectively called an osteon. The front edge of the diagram shows a longitudinal cross section of one of the osteons. The vessels and nerve are visible running through the center of the osteon throughout its length. In addition, blood vessels can run from the periosteum through the sides of the osteons and connect with the vessels of the central canal. The blood vessels travel through the sides of the osteons via a perforating canal. The open areas between neighboring osteons are also filled with compact bone. This “filler” bone is referred to as the interstitial lamellae. At the far right of the compact bone, the edge of the spongy bone is visible. The spongy bone is a series of crisscrossing bony arches called trabeculae. There are many open spaces between the trabeculae, giving the spongy bone its sponge-like appearance.
(a) This cross-sectional view of compact bone shows the basic structural unit, the osteon. (b) In this micrograph of the osteon, you can clearly see the concentric lamellae and central canals. LM × 40. (Micrograph provided by the Regents of University of Michigan Medical School © 2012)

The microscopic structural unit of compact bone is called an osteon    , or Haversian system. Each osteon is composed of concentric rings of calcified matrix called lamellae (singular = lamella). Running down the center of each osteon is the central canal    , or Haversian canal, which contains blood vessels, nerves, and lymphatic vessels. These vessels and nerves branch off at right angles through a perforating canal    , also known as Volkmann’s canals, to extend to the periosteum and endosteum.

The osteocytes are located inside spaces called lacunae (singular = lacuna), found at the borders of adjacent lamellae. As described earlier, canaliculi    connect with the canaliculi of other lacunae and eventually with the central canal. This system allows nutrients to be transported to the osteocytes and wastes to be removed from them.

Spongy (cancellous) bone

Like compact bone, spongy bone    , also known as cancellous bone, contains osteocytes housed in lacunae, but they are not arranged in concentric circles. Instead, the lacunae and osteocytes are found in a lattice-like network of matrix spikes called trabeculae    (singular = trabecula) ( [link] ). The trabeculae may appear to be a random network, but each trabecula forms along lines of stress to provide strength to the bone. The spaces of the trabeculated network provide balance to the dense and heavy compact bone by making bones lighter so that muscles can move them more easily. In addition, the spaces in some spongy bones contain red marrow, protected by the trabeculae, where blood cells are formed occurs.

Diagram of spongy bone

This illustration shows the spongy bone within the proximal epiphysis of the femur in two successively magnified images. The lower-magnification image shows two layers of crisscrossing trabeculae. The surface of each is dotted with small black holes which are the openings of the canaliculi. One of the trabeculae is in a cross section to show its internal layers. The outermost covering of the lamellae is called the endosteum. This endosteum surrounds several layers of concentric lamellae. The higher-magnification image shows the cross section of the trabeculae more clearly. Three concentric lamellae are shown in this view, each possessing perpendicular black lines. These lines are the canaliculi and are oriented on the round lamellae similar to the spokes of a wheel. In between the lamellae are small cavities called lacunae which house cells called osteocytes. In addition, two large osteoclasts are seated on the outer edge of the outermost lamellae. The outermost lamellae are also surrounded by groups of small, white, osteoblasts.
Spongy bone is composed of trabeculae that contain the osteocytes. Red marrow fills the spaces in some bones.

Blood and nerve supply

The spongy bone and medullary cavity receive nourishment from arteries that pass through the compact bone. The arteries enter through the nutrient foramen    (plural = foramina), small openings in the diaphysis ( [link] ). The osteocytes in spongy bone are nourished by blood vessels of the periosteum that penetrate spongy bone and blood that circulates in the marrow cavities. As the blood passes through the marrow cavities, it is collected by veins, which then pass out of the bone through the foramina.

In addition to the blood vessels, nerves follow the same paths into the bone where they tend to concentrate in the more metabolically active regions of the bone. The nerves sense pain, and it appears the nerves also play roles in regulating blood supplies and in bone growth, hence their concentrations in metabolically active sites of the bone.

Diagram of blood and nerve supply to bone

This illustration shows an anterior view if the right femur. The femur is split in half lengthwise to show its internal anatomy. The outer covering of the femur is labeled the periosteum. Within it is a thin layer of compact bone that surrounds a central cavity called the medullary or marrow cavity. This cavity is filled with spongy bone at both epiphyses. A nutrient artery and vein travels through the periosteum and compact bone at the center of the diaphysis. After entering the bone, the nutrient arteries and veins spread throughout the marrow cavity in both directions. Some of the arteries and veins in the marrow cavity also spread into the spongy bone within the distal and proximal epiphyses. However, additional blood vessels called the metaphyseal arteries and the metaphyseal veins enter into the metaphysis from outside of the bone.
Blood vessels and nerves enter the bone through the nutrient foramen.

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Source:  OpenStax, Skeletal system. OpenStax CNX. Apr 17, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11779/1.1
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