Rethinking the nature of fibrolamellar bone: an integrative biological revision of sauropod plexiform bone formation

Koen Stein, Edina Prondvai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


We present novel findings on sauropod bone histology that cast doubt on general palaeohistological concepts concerning the true nature of woven bone in primary cortical bone and its role in the rapid growth and giant body sizes of sauropod dinosaurs. By preparing and investigating longitudinal thin sections of sauropod long bones, of which transverse thin sections were published previously, we found that the amount of woven bone in the primary complex has been largely overestimated. Using comparative cellular and light‐extinction characteristics in the two section planes, we revealed that the majority of the bony lamina consists of longitudinally organized primary bone, whereas woven bone is usually represented only by a layer a few cells thin in the laminae. Previous arguments on sauropod biology, which have been based on the overestimated amount, misinterpreted formation process and misjudged role of woven bone in the plexiform bone formation of sauropod dinosaurs, are thereby rejected.

To explain the observed pattern in fossil bones, we review the most recent advances in bone biology concerning bone formation processes at the cellular and tissue levels. Differentiation between static and dynamic osteogenesis (SO and DO) and the revealed characteristics of SO‐ versus DO‐derived bone tissues shed light on several questions raised by our palaeohistological results and permit identification of these bone tissues in fossils with high confidence. By presenting the methods generally used for investigating fossil bones, we show that the major cause of overestimation of the amount of woven bone in previous palaeohistological studies is the almost exclusive usage of transverse sections. In these sections, cells and crystallites of the longitudinally organized primary bone are cut transversely, thus cells appear rounded and crystallites remain dark under crossed plane polarizers, thereby giving the false impression of woven bone. In order to avoid further confusion in palaeohistological studies, we introduce new osteohistological terms as well as revise widely used but incorrect terminology.

To infer the role of woven bone in the bone formation of fast‐growing tetrapods, we review some aspects of the interrelationships between the vascularity of bone tissues, basal metabolic rate, body size and growth rate. By putting our findings into the context of osteogenesis, we provide a new model for the diametrical limb bone growth of sauropods and present new implications for the evolution of fast growth in vertebrates. Since biomechanical studies of bone tissues suggest that predominant collagen fibre orientation (CFO) is controlled by endogenous, functional and perhaps phylogenetic factors, the relationship between CFO and bone growth rate as defined by Amprino's rule, which has been the basis for the biological interpretation of several osteohistological features, must be revised.

Our findings draw attention to the urgent need for revising widely accepted basic concepts of palaeohistological studies, and for a more integrative approach to bone formation, biomechanics and bone microstructural features of extant and extinct vertebrates to infer life history traits of long extinct, iconic animals like dinosaurs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-47
Number of pages25
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2013


  • sauropod dinosaur
  • fibrolamellar bone
  • woven bone
  • plexiform bone
  • palaeohistology
  • osteocyte lacuna
  • section planes
  • growth rate
  • collagen fibre orientation


Dive into the research topics of 'Rethinking the nature of fibrolamellar bone: an integrative biological revision of sauropod plexiform bone formation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this