Highly ordered interstitial water observed in bone by nuclear magnetic resonance

Erin E. Wilson, Ayorinde Awonusi, Michael D. Morris, David H. Kohn, Mary M.J. Tecklenburg, Larry W. Beck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


NMR was used to study the nanostructure of bone tissue. Distance measurements show that the first water layer at the surface of the mineral in cortical bone is structured. This water may serve to couple the mineral to the organic matrix and may play a role in deformation. Introduction: The unique mechanical characteristics of bone tissue have not yet been satisfactorily connected to the exact molecular architecture of this complex composite material. Recently developed solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques are applied here to the mineral component to provide new structural distance constraints at the subnanometer scale. Materials and Methods: NMR dipolar couplings between structural protons (OH- and H2O) and phosphorus (PO4) or carbon (CO3) were measured using the 2D Lee-Goldburg Cross-Polarization under Magic-Angle Spinning (2D LG-CPMAS) pulse sequence, which simultaneously suppresses the much stronger proton-proton dipolar interactions. The NMR dipolar couplings measured provide accurate distances between atoms, e.g., OH and PO4 in apatites. Excised and powdered femoral cortical bone was used for these experiments. Synthetic carbonate (-2-4 wt%)-substituted hydroxyapatite was also studied for structural comparison. Results: In synthetic apatite, the hydroxide ions are strongly hydrogen bonded to adjacent carbonate or phosphate ions, with hydrogen bond (O-H) distances of -1.96 Å observed. The bone tissue sample, in contrast, shows little evidence of ordered hydroxide. Instead, a very ordered (structural) layer of water molecules is identified, which hydrates the small bioapatite crystallites through very close arrangements. Water protons are -2.3-2.55 Å from surface phosphorus atoms. Conclusions: In synthetic carbonated apatite, strong hydrogen bonds were observed between the hydroxide ions and structural phosphate and carbonate units in the apatite crystal lattice. These hydrogen bonding interactions may contribute to the long-range stability of this mineral structure. The biological apatite in cortical bone tissue shows evidence of hydrogen bonding with an ordered surface water layer at the faces of the mineral particles. This structural water layer has been inferred, but direct spectroscopic evidence of this interstitial water is given here. An ordered structural water layer sandwiched between the mineral and the organic collagen fibers may affect the biomechanical properties of this complex composite material.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)625-634
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Bone and Mineral Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2005


  • Biomechanics
  • Carbonated hydroxyapatite
  • Hydroxide ion
  • Nanostructure
  • Structural water


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