Hierarchical organization of bone in three dimensions: A twist of twists

Daniel J. Buss, Roland Kröger, Marc D. McKee, Natalie Reznikov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Structural hierarchy of bone - observed across multiple scales and in three dimensions (3D) - is essential to its mechanical performance. While the mineralized extracellular matrix of bone consists predominantly of carbonate-substituted hydroxyapatite, type I collagen fibrils, water, and noncollagenous organic constituents (mainly proteins and small proteoglycans), it is largely the 3D arrangement of these inorganic and organic constituents at each length scale that endow bone with its exceptional mechanical properties. Focusing on recent volumetric imaging studies of bone at each of these scales – from the level of individual mineralized collagen fibrils to that of whole bones – this graphical review builds upon and re-emphasizes the original work of James Bell Pettigrew and D’Arcy Thompson who first described the ubiquity of spiral structure in Nature. Here we illustrate and discuss the omnipresence of twisted, curved, sinusoidal, coiled, spiraling, and braided motifs in bone in at least nine of its twelve hierarchical levels – a visualization undertaking that has not been possible until recently with advances in 3D imaging technologies (previous 2D imaging does not provide this information). From this perspective, we hypothesize that the twisting motif occurring across each hierarchical level of bone is directly linked to enhancement of function, rather than being simply an energetically favorable way to assemble mineralized matrix components. We propose that attentive consideration of twists in bone and the skeleton at different scales will likely develop, and will enhance our understanding of structure-function relationships in bone.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100057
Number of pages10
Issue number2022
Early online date13 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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