Bone mineralization proceeds through intracellular calcium phosphate loaded vesicles: A cryo-electron microscopy study

Julia Mahamid*, Amnon Sharir, Dvir Gur, Elazar Zelzer, Lia Addadi, Steve Weiner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

220 Scopus citations


Bone is the most widespread mineralized tissue in vertebrates and its formation is orchestrated by specialized cells - the osteoblasts. Crystalline carbonated hydroxyapatite, an inorganic calcium phosphate mineral, constitutes a substantial fraction of mature bone tissue. Yet key aspects of the mineral formation mechanism, transport pathways and deposition in the extracellular matrix remain unidentified. Using cryo-electron microscopy on native frozen-hydrated tissues we show that during mineralization of developing mouse calvaria and long bones, bone-lining cells concentrate membrane-bound mineral granules within intracellular vesicles. Elemental analysis and electron diffraction show that the intracellular mineral granules consist of disordered calcium phosphate, a highly metastable phase and a potential precursor of carbonated hydroxyapatite. The intracellular mineral contains considerably less calcium than expected for synthetic amorphous calcium phosphate, suggesting the presence of a cellular mechanism by which phosphate entities are first formed and thereafter gradually sequester calcium within the vesicles. We thus demonstrate that in vivo osteoblasts actively produce disordered mineral packets within intracellular vesicles for mineralization of the extracellular developing bone tissue. The use of a highly disordered precursor mineral phase that later crystallizes within an extracellular matrix is a strategy employed in the formation of fish fin bones and by various invertebrate phyla. This therefore appears to be a widespread strategy used by many animal phyla, including vertebrates.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)527-535
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Dr. Vlad Brumfeld for his assistance with fluorescence and μ-CT imaging. The electron microscopy studies were conducted at the Irving and Cherna Moskowitz Center for Nano and Bio-Nano Imaging, Weizmann Institute of Science. L.A. is the incumbent of the Dorothy and Patrick Gorman Professorial Chair of Biological Ultrastructure, and S.W. is the incumbent of the Dr. Trude Burchardt Professorial Chair of Structural Biology. J.M. was supported by the Israeli Council for Higher Education. This work was supported by the Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly, Weizmann Institute .


  • Biomineralization
  • Calvaria
  • Carbonated hydroxyapatite
  • Mouse model
  • Osteoblast
  • Transient precursor


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