Aspects of the ultrastructural interaction between collagen and mineral crystals in embryonic chick bone have been examined by the novel technique of high voltage electron microscopic tomography to obtain three-dimensional information concerning extracellular calcification in this tissue. Newly mineralizing osteoid along periosteal surfaces of mid-diaphyseal regions from normal chick tibiae was embedded, cut into 0.25 μm thick sections, and documented at 1.0 MV in the Albany AEI-EM7 high voltage electron microscope. The areas of the tissue studied contained electron dense mineral crystals associated with collagen fibrils, some marked by crystals disposed along their cylindrically shaped lengths. Tomographic reconstructions of one site with two mineralizing fibrils were computed from a 5° tilt series of micrographs over a ±60° range. Reconstructions showed that the mineral crystals were platelets of irregular shape. Their sizes were variable, measured here up to 80 × 30 × 8 nm in length, width, and thickness, respectively. The longest crystal dimension, corresponding to the c-axis crystallographically, was generally parallel to the collagen fibril long axis. Individual crystals were oriented parallel to one another in each fibril examined. They were also parallel in the neighboring but apparently spatially separate fibrils. Crystals were periodically (∼67 nm repeat distance) arranged along the fibrils and their location appeared to correspond to collagen hole and overlap zones defined by geometrical imaging techniques. The crystals appeared to be continuously distributed along a fibril, their size and number increasing in a tapered fashion from a relatively narrow tip containing smaller and infrequent crystals to wider regions having more densely packed and larger crystals. Defined for the first time by direct visual 3D imaging, these data describe the size, shape, location, orientation, and development of early crystals in normal bone collagen. The results suggest that platelet-shaped crystals are arranged in channels or grooves which are formed by collagen hole zones in register and that crystal sizes may exceed the dimensions of hole zones. Such data agree with those from mineral-matrix interaction in normally calcifying avian tendon obtained by similar high voltage tomographic means, but in addition they indicate a possible gradual and continuous deposition of crystals in collagen of bone unlike tendon and imply that individual collagen fibrils in local regions of osteoid are organized such that they all may be aligned in a coherent manner.
Keywords: Calcification; High voltage electron microscopy; Tomography; 3D image reconstruction; Chick bone