Fractal-like hierarchical organization of bone begins at the nanoscale

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Abstract

The components of bone assemble hierarchically to provide stiffness and toughness. However, the organization and relationship between bone’s principal components—mineral and collagen—has not been clearly elucidated. Using three-dimensional electron tomography imaging and high-resolution two-dimensional electron microscopy, we demonstrate that bone mineral is hierarchically assembled beginning at the nanoscale: Needle-shaped mineral units merge laterally to form platelets, and these are further organized into stacks of roughly parallel platelets. These stacks coalesce into aggregates that exceed the lateral dimensions of the collagen fibrils and span adjacent fibrils as continuous, cross-fibrillar mineralization. On the basis of these observations, we present a structural model of hierarchy and continuity for the mineral phase, which contributes to the structural integrity of bone.

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