Comprising ~20 % of the volume, water is a key determinant of the mechanical behavior of cortical bone. It essentially exists in two general compartments: within pores and bound to the matrix. The amount of pore water—residing in the vascular-lacunar-canalicular space—primarily reflects intracortical porosity (i.e., open spaces within the matrix largely due to Haversian canals and resorption sites) and as such is inversely proportional to most mechanical properties of bone. Movement of water according to pressure gradients generated during dynamic loading likely confers hydraulic stiffening to the bone as well. Nonetheless, bound water is a primary contributor to the mechanical behavior of bone in that it is responsible for giving collagen the ability to confer ductility or plasticity to bone (i.e., allows deformation to continue once permanent damage begins to form in the matrix) and decreases with age along with fracture resistance. Thus, dehydration by air-drying or by solvents with less hydrogen bonding capacity causes bone to become brittle, but interestingly, it also increases stiffness and strength across the hierarchical levels of organization. Despite the importance of matrix hydration to fracture resistance, little is known about why bound water decreases with age in hydrated human bone. Using ¹H nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), both bound and pore water concentrations in bone can be measured ex vivo because the proton relaxation times differ between the two water compartments, giving rise to two distinct signals. There are also emerging techniques to measure bound and pore water in vivo with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The NMR/MRI-derived bound water concentration is positively correlated with both the strength and toughness of hydrated bone and may become a useful clinical marker of fracture risk.
Water; Bone; Magnetic resonance imaging; Strength; Toughness; Quality; Mineralization; Mechanical behavior