Mineralization by inhibitor exclusion: the calcification of collagen with fetuin

J Biol Chem. 2009 Jun 19;284(25):17092-17101. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.007013. Epub 2009 May 4.


One of our goals is to understand the mechanisms that deposit mineral within collagen fibrils, and as a first step we recently determined the size exclusion characteristics of the fibril. This study revealed that apatite crystals up to 12 unit cells in size can access the water within the fibril, whereas molecules larger than a 40-kDa protein are excluded. Based on these observations, we proposed a novel mechanism for fibril mineralization: that macromolecular inhibitors of apatite growth favor fibril mineralization by selectively inhibiting crystal growth in the solution outside of the fibril. To test this mechanism, we developed a system in which crystal formation is driven by homogeneous nucleation at high calcium phosphate concentration and the only macromolecule in solution is fetuin, a 48-kDa inhibitor of apatite growth. Our experiments with this system demonstrated that fetuin determines the location of mineral growth; in the presence of fetuin mineral grows exclusively within the fibril, whereas in its absence mineral grows in solution outside the fibril. Additional experiments showed that fetuin is also able to localize calcification to the interior of synthetic matrices that have size exclusion characteristics similar to those of collagen and that it does so by selectively inhibiting mineral growth outside of these matrices. We termed this new calcification mechanism "mineralization by inhibitor exclusion," the selective mineralization of a matrix using a macromolecular inhibitor of mineral growth that is excluded from that matrix. Future studies will be needed to evaluate the possible role of this mechanism in bone mineralization.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apatites / chemistry
  • Apatites / metabolism
  • Calcification, Physiologic / physiology*
  • Cattle
  • Collagen Type I / chemistry
  • Collagen Type I / metabolism*
  • Crystallization
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Minerals / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Solutions
  • Tendons / chemistry
  • Tendons / metabolism
  • Tendons / ultrastructure
  • alpha-Fetoproteins / metabolism*


  • Apatites
  • Collagen Type I
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Minerals
  • Solutions
  • alpha-Fetoproteins