Researchers in the United Kingdom and Germany are reporting that one of the most fundamental scientific beliefs about the structure of human bone is incomplete -- a finding they say could have sweeping impact on treatments for osteoporosis and other bone disorders. Their study concludes that sugars, not proteins, are key organic building blocks that account for bone's toughness and stiffness.
The University of Cambridge's David G. Reid and Melinda Duer and Christian Jaeger at and Federal Institute of Materials Research and Testing in Berlin, explain that scientists have long held that collagen and other proteins were the main organic molecules responsible for stabilizing normal bone structure.
That belief has been the basis for existing medications for bone disorders, and bone replacement materials. At the same time, researchers paid little attention to roles of sugars (carbohydrates) in the complex process of bone growth.
In the new report, researchers describe experiments on mineralization in horse bones using an analysis tool called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). They found that sugars, particularly proteoglycans and glycosaminoglycans, appear to play a larger role than proteins in controlling the bone mineralization process and may be a key to maintaining healthy bones.
"This could exert a major impact on the pharmacological management of bone disorders by directing novel therapeutic approaches, as it suggests new molecular targets for drug discovery," the report states. "It also offers new disease biomarkers for diagnosis."
"Organic-Mineral Interface in Bone is Predominately Polysaccharide" is scheduled for the Oct. 16 issue of ACS' Chemistry of Materials.
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