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The brittleness of aging bones -- more than a loss of bone mass
Date:8/29/2011

lizabeth Zimmermann, Eric Schaible, Hrishikesh Bale, Holly Barth, Simon Tang, Peter Reichert, Bjrn Busse, Tamara Alliston and Joel Ager.

Human cortical or compact bone is a composite of collagen molecules and nanocrystals of a mineralized form of calcium called hydroxyapatite (HA). Mechanical properties of stiffness, strength and toughness arise from both the characteristic structure at the nanoscale, and at multiple length scales through the hierarchical architecture of the bone. These length scales extend from the molecular level to the osteonal structures at near-millimeter levels. An osteon is the basic structural unit of compact bone, comprised of a central canal surrounded by concentric rings of lamellae plates, through which bone remodels.

"Mechanisms that strengthen and toughen bone can be identified at most of these structural length scales and can be usefully classified, as in many materials, in terms of intrinsic toughening mechanisms at small length scales, promoting non-brittle behavior, and extrinsic toughening mechanisms at larger length scales acting to limit the growth of cracks," Ritchie says. "These features are present in healthy, young human bone and are responsible for its unique mechanical properties. However, with biological aging, the ability of these mechanisms to resist fracture deteriorates leading to a reduction in bone strength and fracture toughness."

Working with the exceptionally bright beams of x-rays at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source (ALS), Ritchie and his colleagues analyzed bone samples that ranged in age between 34 and 99 years. In situ small-angle x-ray scattering and wide-angle x-ray diffraction were used to characterize the mechanical response of the collagen and mineral at the sub micrometer level. A combination of x-ray computed tomography and in situ fracture-toughness measurements with a scanning electron microscope were used to characterize effects at micrometer levels.


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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
510-486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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