Phase-specific bioactivity and altered Ostwald ripening pathways of calcium carbonate polymorphs in simulated body fluid†
Calcium carbonate is an abundant biomineral, and already archeological records demonstrate its bioactivity and applicability for osseo-integrative implants. Its solubility, which is generally higher than those of calcium phosphates, depends on its polymorph turning calcium carbonate into a promising biomaterial with tunable bioresorption rate. However, the phase-dependent bioactivity of calcium carbonate, i.e., its osteoconductivity, is still insufficiently characterized. In this study, we address this issue by monitoring the behavior of the four most important calcium carbonate phases, i.e., calcite, aragonite, vaterite, and amorphous calcium carbonate, in simulated body fluid solution at 37 °C. Our results demonstrate that the thermodynamically stable calcite phase is essentially inert. In contrast, the metastable phases aragonite and vaterite are bioactive, thus promoting the formation of calcium phosphate. Amorphous calcium carbonate (ACC) shows prominent bioactivity accompanied by pronounced redissolution processes. Mg-stabilized ACC was additionally tested since its increased stability eases formulation and handling in future applications. It is highly bioactive and, moreover, the additional release of Mg promotes cell viability. Overall, our results demonstrate that bioactivity of calcium carbonate is phase-dependent, allowing tailored response and bioactivity of future calcareous biomaterials. Our results also reveal that phosphate ions strongly interfere with Ostwald–Lussac step ripening of calcium carbonate, kinetically stabilizing metastable polymorphs such as vaterite and aragonite; this is a distinctive feature of the calcium carbonate mineral system which clearly has to be considered in future applications of calcium carbonate as a bioceramic.