Visualisation of developmental ossification using trace element mapping
Endochondral ossification is the process by which bone is deposited during development, growth and repair of the skeleton. The regulation of endochondral ossification is extremely important as developmental flaws can result in severe skeletal abnormalities. However, until recently the limitations of available methodologies have restricted our understanding of this fundamental physiological process. The analysis of chemical elements that are intimately associated with discrete biochemical stages of ossification within bone could provide new insight to such processes at the atomic level. In this study we present detailed characterisation of the elemental inventory within actively ossifying bone during development in mice using synchrotron microfocus X-ray techniques. X-ray fluorescence imaging showed differential distributions of Zn, Sr and Ca, which may be correlated with the processes of cartilage replacement (Zn), active ossification (Sr) and fully ossified tissues (Ca). Quantification of these trace elements confirmed their relative distributions. These results represent the first detailed visualisation of local endochondral ossification processes using trace elemental mapping. Such studies have far reaching applications not only in the medical field, but to our understanding of the evolution of the bony skeleton given that trace element inventories have been shown to be preserved through deep time (millions of years).