The fine structure of decalcified cartilage and bone: A comparison between decalcification procedures performed before and after embedding
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The ultrastructure of calcifying cartilage and bone has been examined under the electron microscope after using three different methods of decalcification. The first was carried out before embedding (by soaking specimens in EDTA or formic acid), the second after embedding (by floating ultrathin sections on formic acid), and the third after embedding (by soaking embedded specimens in EDTA or formic acid), and with later re-embedding.
The first procedure invariably induces drastic changes in the fine structure of the cells and calcified matrix, probably as a results of the extraction of organic material along with extraction of mineral. The second and third procedures make it possible to preserve ultrastructural details perfectly in both cells and calcified matrix. Of the two, the third procedure is preferable because of its greater simplicity. In areas that are still calcifying, these post-embedding decalcification techniques reveal the presence of crystal-associated, filamentous organic structures which are not recognizable in specimens decalcified before embedding. These structures, which could have a key role in inducing and regulating crystal formation and growth, are less evident in fully calcified areas (but not at their borders). This may partly be due to the loss of glycan components in the matrix during calcification. The most important determinant, however, seems to be the fact that during calcification the components of the matrix, including collagen fibrils, are involved in an aggregation process which reduces the amounts of free chemical groups available for reaction with the stain solution. Because post-embedding decalcification does not disturb this state of aggregation, the stainability of the matrix and the electron microscopic evidence of its components remain very low.
Key wordsDecalcification Electron microscopy Calcified matrices
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