Mineral and organic matrix interaction in normally calcifying tendon visualized in three dimensions by high-voltage electron microscopic tomography and graphic image reconstruction

J Struct Biol. Jan-Feb 1993;110(1):39-54. doi: 10.1006/jsbi.1993.1003.


To define the ultrastructural accommodation of mineral crystals by collagen fibrils and other organic matrix components during vertebrate calcification, electron microscopic 3-D reconstructions were generated from the normally mineralizing leg tendons from the domestic turkey, Meleagris gallopavo. Embedded specimens containing initial collagen mineralizing sites were cut into 0.5-micron-thick sections and viewed and photographed at 1.0 MV in the Albany AEI-EM7 high-voltage electron microscope. Tomographic 3-D reconstructions were computed from a 2 degree tilt series of micrographs taken over a minimum angular range of +/- 60 degrees. Reconstructions of longitudinal tendon profiles confirm the presence of irregularly shaped mineral platelets, whose crystallographic c-axes are oriented generally parallel to one another and directed along the collagen long axes. The reconstructions also corroborate observations of a variable crystal length (up to 170 nm measured along crystallographic c-axes), the presence of crystals initially in either the hole or overlap zones of collagen, and crystal growth in the c-axis direction beyond these zones into adjacent overlap and other hole regions. Tomography shows for the first time that crystal width varies (30-45 nm) but crystal thickness is uniform (approximately 4-6 nm at the resolution limit of tomography); more crystals are located in the collagen hole zones than in the overlap regions at the earliest stages of tendon mineralization; the crystallographic c-axes of the platelets lie within +/- 15-20 degrees of one another rather than being perfectly parallel; adjacent platelets are spatially separated by a minimum of 4.2 +/- 1.0 nm; crystals apparently fuse in coplanar alignment to form larger platelets; development of crystals in width occurs to dimensions beyond single collagen hole zones; and a thin envelope of organic origin may be present along or just beneath the surfaces of individual mineral platelets. Implicit in the results is that the formation of crystals occurs at different sites and times by independent nucleation events in local regions of collagen. These data provide the first direct visual evidence from 3-D imaging describing the size, shape, orientation, and growth of mineral crystals in association with collagen of a normally mineralizing vertebrate tissue. They support concepts that c-axial crystal growth is unhindered by collage hole zone dimensions, that crystals are organized in the tendon in a series of generally parallel platelets, and that crystal growth in width across collagen fibrils may follow channels or grooves formed by adjacent hole zones in register.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcification, Physiologic
  • Collagen / ultrastructure
  • Crystallization
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / ultrastructure
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Minerals / metabolism*
  • Tendons / metabolism*
  • Tendons / ultrastructure*
  • Turkeys


  • Minerals
  • Collagen