Organization of extracellularly mineralized tissues: a comparative study of biological crystal growth

CRC Crit Rev Biochem. 1986;20(4):365-408. doi: 10.3109/10409238609081998.


Biological mineralization processes are extremely diverse and, to date, it is an act of faith rather than an established principle that organisms utilize common mechanisms for forming crystals. A systematic analysis of the structural organization, as far as possible at the molecular level, of five different extracellularly mineralized tissues is presented to demonstrate that at least these mineralization processes are all part of the same continuum. The degrees of control exercised over crystal nucleation and crystal growth modulation are the basic variables. The five tissues, extracellularly mineralizing algae, radial and granular foraminifera, mammalian bone, mammalian enamel, and mollusk shell nacre, probably span the entire spectrum. Their crystal shapes, sizes, and the relations between the mineral phase and the organic phase, are primarily used to assess probable degrees of control exercised over crystal nucleation and modulation. Three different types of nucleation processes can be recognized: nonspecific, stereochemical, and epitaxial. Modulation of crystal growth after nucleation is either absent, achieved by adsorption of macromolecules onto specific crystal faces, or occurs by the prepositioning of matrix surfaces which interrupt crystal growth. The tissues in which active control is exercised over crystal growth all contain similar types of acidic matrix macromolecules. Significantly, the framework matrix macromolecules are all quite different and hence probably perform some tissue-specific functions. The study shows that there is a common basis for understanding these mineralization processes which is reflected in the nature of the protein-crystal interactions which occur in each tissue.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism
  • Crystallization
  • Dental Enamel / metabolism
  • Eukaryota / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Minerals / metabolism*
  • Mollusca / metabolism


  • Minerals