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A Model for the Ultrastructure of Bone Based on Electron Microscopy of Ion-Milled Sections
Published: Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Author: Elizabeth A. McNally et al.

by Elizabeth A. McNally, Henry P. Schwarcz, Gianluigi A. Botton, A. Larry Arsenault

The relationship between the mineral component of bone and associated collagen has been a matter of continued dispute. We use transmission electron microscopy (TEM) of cryogenically ion milled sections of fully-mineralized cortical bone to study the spatial and topological relationship between mineral and collagen. We observe that hydroxyapatite (HA) occurs largely as elongated plate-like structures which are external to and oriented parallel to the collagen fibrils. Dark field images suggest that the structures (“mineral structures”) are polycrystalline. They are approximately 5 nm thick, 70 nm wide and several hundred nm long. Using energy-dispersive X-ray analysis we show that approximately 70% of the HA occurs as mineral structures external to the fibrils. The remainder is found constrained to the gap zones. Comparative studies of other species suggest that this structural motif is ubiquitous in all vertebrates.