In recent years, the important role of the organic matrix for the mechanical properties of bone has become increasingly apparent. It is therefore of great interest to understand the interactions between the organic and inorganic constituents of bone and learn the mechanisms by which the organic matrix contributes to the remarkable properties of this complex biomaterial. In this paper, we present a multifaceted view of the changes of bone's properties due to heat-induced degradation of the organic matrix. We compare the microscopic fracture behavior (scanning electron microscopy; SEM), the topography of the surfaces (atomic force microscopy; AFM), the condition of bone constituents [X-ray diffraction (XRD), thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), and gel electrophoresis], and the macromechanical properties of healthy bovine trabecular bone with trabecular bone that has a heat-degraded organic matrix. We show that heat treatment changes the microfracture behavior of trabecular bone. The primary failure mode of untreated trabecular bone is fibril-guided delamination, with mineralized collagen filaments bridging the gap of the microcrack. In contrast, bone that has been baked at 200degreesC fractures nondirectionally like a brittle material, with no fibers spanning the microcracks. Finally, bone that has been boiled for 2 h in PBS solution fractures by delarnination with many small filaments spanning the microcracks, so that the edges of the microcracks become difficult to distinguish. Of the methods we used, baking most effectively weakens the mechanical strength of bone, creating the most brittle material. Boiled bone is stronger than baked bone, but weaker than untreated bone. Boiled bone is more elastic than untreated bone, which is in turn more elastic than baked bone. These studies clearly emphasize the importance of the organic matrix in affecting the fracture mechanics of bone. (C) 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.