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

"We found that biological aging increases non-enzymatic cross-linking between the collagen molecules, which suppresses plasticity at nanoscale dimensions, meaning that collagen fibrils can no longer slide with respect to one another as a way to absorb energy from an impact," Ritchie says. "We also found that biological aging increases osteonal density, which limits the potency of crack-bridging mechanisms at micrometer scales."

These two mechanisms that act to reduce bone toughness are coupled, Ritchie says, in that the increased stiffness of the cross-linked collagen requires energy to be absorbed by "plastic" deformation at higher structural levels, which occurs by the process of micro cracking.

"With age, remodeling of the bone can lead the osteons to triple in number, which means the channels become more closely packed and less effective at deflecting the growth of cracks," he says. "This growing ineffectiveness must be accommodated at higher structural levels by increased micro cracking. In turn, the increased micro cracking compromises the formation of crack bridges, which provide one of the main sources of extrinsic toughening in bone at length scales in the range of tens to hundreds of micrometers. Thus, age-related changes occur across many levels of the structure to increase the risk of fracture with age."


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

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