The ultrastructure of bone has been widely debated, in part due to limitations in visualizing nanostructural features over relevant micrometer length scales. Here, we employ the high resolving power and compositional contrast of high-angle annular dark-field scanning transmission electron microscopy (HAADF STEM) to investigate new features in human bone with nanometer resolution over microscale areas. Using focused ion beam (FIB)-milled sections that span an area of 50 μm2, we have shown how most of the mineral of cortical human osteonal bone occurs in the form of long, thin polycrystalline plates (mineral lamellae, MLs) which are either flat or curved to wrap closely around collagen fibrils. Close to the collagen fibril (< 20 nm), the radius of curvature matches that of the fibril diameter, while at greater distances, MLs form arcs with much larger radii of curvature. In addition, stacks of closely packed planar (uncurved) MLs occur between fibrils. The curving of mineral lamellae both around and between the fibrils would contribute to the strength of bone. At a larger scale, rosette-like clusters of fibrils are noted for the first time, arranged in quasi-circular arrays that define tube-like structures in alternating osteonal lamellae. At the boundary between adjacent osteonal lamellae, the orientation of fibrils and surrounding mineral lamellae changes abruptly, resembling the “orthogonal” patterns identified by others (Reznikov et al. in Acta Biomater 10:3815–3826, 2014). These features spanning nanometer to micrometer scale have implications for our understanding of bone structure and mechanical integrity.
Keywords: Bone; Ultrastructure; Mineral lamellae; Collagen; Apatite; TEM