High-resolution AFM imaging of intact and fractured trabecular bone
Nanoscale structural analyses of biomineralized materials can frequently help elucidate important structure-function relationships in these complex organic-inorganic composites. Atomic force microscope (AFM) imaging of the exterior surface of trabecular bone reveals a densely woven structure of collagen fibrils, banded with a 67-nm periodicity, and densely packed mineral plates. The mineral plates on the collagen fibrils overlap and exhibit a large range of plate diameters from 30 to 200 rim. On the collagen fibrils, small nodular features, spaced 20-30 nm, run perpendicular to the fibrils. In some cases, these nodules are also seen on filaments extending between collagen fibrils. We hypothesize that these protrusions are noncollagenous proteins such as proteoglycans and may have collapsed into compact structures when the sample was dried. AFM images of pristine fractured surfaces reveal a dense array of mineral plates. In a few isolated locations, short sections of bare collagen fibrils are visible. In other regions, the existence of the underlying collagen fibrils can be inferred from the linear patterns of the mineral plates. Fractured samples, rinsed to remove mineral plates, reveal separated collagen fibrils on the fractured surfaces. These fibrils are often covered with protrusions similar to those observed on the exterior surfaces but are less organized. In addition, as on the exterior surfaces, there are sometimes small filaments extending between neighboring collagen fibrils. These studies provide important insights into the nanostructured architecture of this complex biocomposite. (C) 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.