Objectives To investigate intermittent hypoxia (IH) induced changes in craniofacial morphology and bone mineral density (BMD) in the mandible of growing rats. Design Seven-week-old male Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to IH for 4 days or 3 weeks. Sham-operated rats simultaneously breathed room air. Lateral and transverse cephalometric radiographs of the craniofacial region were obtained, and the linear distances between cephalometric landmarks were statistically analyzed. BMD and bone microstructure of the mandible were evaluated using micro-computed tomography (micro-CT). Results Cephalometric analyses demonstrated that exposure to IH only in the two groups for 3 weeks decreased the size of the mandibular and viscerocranial bones, but not that of the neurocranial bones, in early adolescent rats. These findings are consistent with upper airway narrowing and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Micro-CT showed that IH increased the BMD in the cancellous bone of the mandibular condyle and the inter-radicular alveolar bone in the mandibular first molar (M1) region. Conclusions This study is the first to identify growth retardation of the craniofacial bones in an animal model of sleep apnea. Notably, 3 weeks of IH can induce multiple changes in the bones around the upper airway in pubertal rats, which can enhance upper airway narrowing and the development of OSA. The reproducibility of these results supports the validity and usefulness of this model. These findings also emphasize the critical importance of morphometric evaluation of patients with OSA.
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