Revealing nanoscale mineralization pathways of hydroxyapatite using in situ liquid cell transmission electron microscopy

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Science Advances  18 Nov 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 47, eaaz7524
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz7524


To treat impairments in hard tissues or overcome pathological calcification in soft tissues, a detailed understanding of mineralization pathways of calcium phosphate materials is needed. Here, we report a detailed mechanistic study of hydroxyapatite (HA) mineralization pathways in an artificial saliva solution via in situ liquid cell transmission electron microscopy (TEM). It is found that the mineralization of HA starts by forming ion-rich and ion-poor solutions in the saliva solution, followed by coexistence of the classical and nonclassical nucleation processes. For the nonclassical path, amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP) functions as the substrate for HA nucleation on the ACP surface, while the classical path features direct HA nucleation from the solution. The growth of HA crystals on the surface of ACP is accompanied by the ACP dissolution process. The discoveries reported in this work are important to understand the physiological and pathological formation of HA minerals, as well as to engineer the biomineralization process for bone healing and hard tissue repairs.

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