Micrometer-Sized Magnesium Whitlockite Crystals in Micropetrosis of Bisphosphonate-Exposed Human Alveolar Bone Academic Article uri icon

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  • Osteocytes are contained within spaces called lacunae and play a central role in bone remodelling. Administered frequently to prevent osteoporotic fractures, antiresorptive agents such as bisphosphonates suppress osteocyte apoptosis and may be localized within osteocyte lacunae. Bisphosphonates also reduce osteoclast viability and thereby hinder the repair of damaged tissue. Osteocyte lacunae contribute to toughening mechanisms. Following osteocyte apoptosis, the lacunar space undergoes mineralization, termed "micropetrosis". Hypermineralized lacunae are believed to increase bone fragility. Using nanoanalytical electron microscopy with complementary spectroscopic and crystallographic experiments, postapoptotic mineralization of osteocyte lacunae in bisphosphonate-exposed human bone was investigated. We report an unprecedented presence of ∼80 nm to ∼3 μm wide, distinctly faceted, magnesium whitlockite [Ca18Mg2(HPO4)2(PO4)12] crystals and consequently altered local nanomechanical properties. These findings have broad implications on the role of therapeutic agents in driving biomineralization and shed new insights into a possible relationship between bisphosphonate exposure, availability of intracellular magnesium, and pathological calcification inside lacunae.


  • Shah, Furqan A
  • Lee, Bryan EJ
  • Tedesco, James
  • Larsson Wexell, Cecilia
  • Persson, Cecilia
  • Thomsen, Peter
  • Grandfield, Kathryn
  • Palmquist, Anders

publication date

  • October 11, 2017