Atomic scale chemical tomography of human bone
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Human bone is a complex hierarchical material. Understanding bone structure and its corresponding composition at the nanometer scale is critical for elucidating mechanisms of biomineralization under healthy and pathological states. However, the three-dimensional structure and chemical nature of bone remains largely unexplored at the nanometer scale due to the challenges associated with characterizing both the structural and chemical integrity of bone simultaneously. Here, we use correlative transmission electron microscopy and atom probe tomography for the first time, to our knowledge, to reveal structures in human bone at the atomic level. This approach provides an overlaying chemical map of the organic and inorganic constituents of bone on its structure. This first use of atom probe tomography on human bone reveals local gradients, trace element detection of Mg, and the co-localization of Na with the inorganic-organic interface of bone mineral and collagen fibrils, suggesting the important role of Na-rich organics in the structural connection between mineral and collagen. Our findings provide the first insights into the hierarchical organization and chemical heterogeneity in human bone in three-dimensions at its smallest length scale - the atomic level. We demonstrate that atom probe tomography shows potential for new insights in biomineralization research on bone.
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