Bone mineral organization at the mesoscale: A review of mineral ellipsoids in bone and at bone interfaces
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Much debate still revolves around bone architecture, especially at the nano- and microscale. Bone is a remarkable material where high strength and toughness coexist thanks to an optimized composition of mineral and protein and their hierarchical organization across several distinct length scales. At the nanoscale, mineralized collagen fibrils act as building block units. Despite their key role in biological and mechanical functions, the mechanisms of collagen mineralization and the precise arrangement of the organic and inorganic constituents in the fibrils remains not fully elucidated. Advances in three-dimensional (3D) characterization of mineralized bone tissue by focused ion beam-scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM) revealed mineral-rich regions geometrically approximated as prolate ellipsoids, much larger than single collagen fibrils. These structures have yet to become prominently recognized, studied, or adopted into biomechanical models of bone. However, they closely resemble the circular to elliptical features previously identified by scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) in two-dimensions (2D). Herein, we review the presence of mineral ellipsoids in bone as observed with electron-based imaging techniques in both 2D and 3D with particular focus on different species, anatomical locations, and in proximity to natural and synthetic biomaterial interfaces. This review reveals that mineral ellipsoids are a ubiquitous structure in all the bones and bone-implant interfaces analyzed. This largely overlooked hierarchical level is expected to bring different perspectives to our understanding of bone mineralization and mechanical properties, in turn shedding light on structure-function relationships in bone. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: In bone, the hierarchical organization of organic (mainly collagen type I) and inorganic (calcium-phosphate mineral) components across several length scales contributes to a unique combination of strength and toughness. However, aspects related to the collagen-mineral organization and to mineralization mechanisms remain unclear. Here, we review the presence of mineral prolate ellipsoids across a variety of species, anatomical locations, and interfaces, both natural and with synthetic biomaterials. These mineral ellipsoids represent a largely unstudied feature in the organization of bone at the mesoscale, i.e., at a level connecting nano- and microscale. Thorough understanding of their origin, development, and structure can provide valuable insights into bone architecture and mineralization, assisting the treatment of bone diseases and the design of bio-inspired materials.
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