Subcanalicular Nanochannel Volume Is Inversely Correlated With Calcium Content in Human Cortical Bone Journal Articles uri icon

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  • ABSTRACT The spatial distribution of mineralization density is an important signature of bone growth and remodeling processes, and its alterations are often related to disease. The extracellular matrix of some vertebrate mineralized tissues is known to be perfused by a lacunocanalicular network (LCN), a fluid-filled unmineralized structure that harbors osteocytes and their fine processes and transports extracellular fluid and its constituents. The current report provides evidence for structural and compositional heterogeneity at an even smaller, subcanalicular scale. The work reveals an extensive unmineralized three-dimensional (3D) network of nanochannels (~30 nm in diameter) penetrating the mineralized extracellular matrix of human femoral cortical bone and encompassing a greater volume fraction and surface area than these same parameters of the canaliculi comprising the LCN. The present study combines high-resolution focused ion beam-scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM) to investigate bone ultrastructure in 3D with quantitative backscattered electron imaging (qBEI) to estimate local bone mineral content. The presence of nanochannels has been found to impact qBEI measurements fundamentally, such that volume percentage (vol%) of nanochannels correlates inversely with weight percentage (wt%) of calcium. This mathematical relationship between nanochannel vol% and calcium wt% suggests that the nanochannels could potentially provide space for ion and small molecule transport throughout the bone matrix. Collectively, these data propose a reinterpretation of qBEI measurements, accounting for nanochannel presence in human bone tissue in addition to collagen and mineral. Further, the results yield insight into bone mineralization processes at the nanometer scale and present the possibility for a potential role of the nanochannel system in permitting ion and small molecule diffusion throughout the extracellular matrix. Such a possible function could thereby lead to the sequestration or occlusion of the ions and small molecules within the extracellular matrix. © 2022 The Authors. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR). Abstract Left: Numerous nanochannels (cyan) in human femoral cortical bone intersecting with a focused ion beam-scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM) background image. Right: wt% Ca measured by quantitative backscattered electron imaging and vol% nanochannels measured by FIB-SEM shows an overall inverse correlation between the two parameters.


  • Tang, Toni
  • Landis, William
  • Blouin, Stéphane
  • Bertinetti, Luca
  • Hartmann, Markus A
  • Berzlanovich, Andrea
  • Weinkamer, Richard
  • Wagermaier, Wolfgang
  • Fratzl, Peter

publication date

  • December 1, 2020