Shock-absorbing 'goo' discovered in bone

27 March 2014

Shock-absorbing 'goo' discovered in bone

New findings show that much of the mineral from which bone is made consists of ‘goo’ trapped between tiny crystals, lubricating and allowing movement. It is this flexibility that stops bones from shattering.

This fluid allows enough movement, or 'slip', between these crystals so that bones are flexible, and don't shatter under pressure. It is the inbuilt shock absorber in bone that, until now, was unknown.

If citrate leaks out, the crystals – made of calcium phosphate – fuse together into bigger and bigger clumps that become inflexible, increasingly brittle and more likely to shatter. This could be the root cause of osteoporosis.

The UCL/ Cambridge team used a combination of NMR spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, imaging and computational modelling to reveal the citrate layers in bone. They say that this is the start of what needs to be an entire shift in focus for studying the cause of brittle bone diseases like osteoporosis, and bone pathologies in general. 

The study is the first in a series of findings, with other studies from the team's work on bone chemistry expected to come out later in the year. 

Published in:

Erika Davies, Karin H. Müller, Wai Ching Wong, Chris J. Pickard, David G. Reid, Jeremy N. Skepper, Melinda J. Duer, 'Citrate bridges between mineral platelets in bone', PNAS, 1315080111 (2014)

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The new view of bone