The superior volume maintenance of membranous over endochondral bone has been shown in several studies and provides the basis for its preferred clinical use as an onlay grafting material in the craniofacial skeleton. The scientific rationale for this seeming embryologic advantage, however, has never been proven. Our hypothesis is that the pattern of onlay bone graft resorption is primarily determined by a graft's micro-architecture (relative cortical and cancellous composition) rather than its embryologic origin (membranous versus endochondral).
Twenty-five adult New Zealand, White rabbits were used for this study. Eight animals were killed at 3 weeks, eight animals at 8 weeks, and nine animals at 16 weeks. Three graft types were placed onto each rabbit cranium: cortical bone graft of membranous origin and cortical and cancellous bone graft of endochondral origin. Fluorochrome markers were injected into all living rabbits at 1, 6, and 14 weeks. Microcomputed tomography scanning was performed on all of the bone grafts to determine postsacrifice volumes and to obtain detailed information regarding the bone graft's trabecular architecture. In addition, specimens were examined histologically.
Volume analysis showed a statistically greater resorption rate in the cancellous endochondral bone graft than in either the endochondral or membranous cortical bone grafts (p < 0.05) for all time points. In addition there was no significant difference in the resorption rates between the endochondral and membranous cortical bone grafts. A post-test power analysis (alpha = 5 percent) of the volume data comparing the two types of cortical bone grafts showed that a difference in resorption of 8.9 percent would be detected with a 90-percent probability.
Previous studies, which have shown a seeming superiority of membranous over endochondral bone grafts, used composite grafts composed of both cortical and cancellous portions. By separating these components, we have shown that cortical bone grafts maintain their volumes significantly better than cancellous bone grafts. In addition, we found no statistical difference in the resorption rates between the two cortical onlay bone grafts of different embryologic origins, a finding that has never been previously published. From our results, we believe cortical bone to be a superior onlay grafting material, independent of its embryologic origin. We believe these results challenge the currently accepted theories of bone graft dynamics and may lead to a change in the way clinicians approach bone graft selections for craniofacial surgery. (Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 102: 291, 1998.)