Skip to main content

Raman spectroscopy of the human nail: A potential tool for evaluating bone health?


Dual X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) is the current gold standard for the diagnosis of osteoporosis. However, patients can suffer osteoporotic fractures despite normal bone mineral density, partly because of unmeasured influences of both the protein and mineral phases of bone that are affected in osteoporosis. There is currently no clinically applicable method of evaluating the health of the protein phase. The proteins in human nail (keratin) and bone (collagen) require sulphation and disulphide bond (S–S) formation for structural integrity and disorders of either sulphur metabolism or cystathione beta-synthase can lead to structural abnormalities in these tissues. Raman protein spectra provide a method of non-invasive measurement of the degree of sulphation of structurally related proteins that may be indicative of bone health. Raman spectroscopy was used to evaluate the disulphide (S–S) content of fingernails. The nail samples came from from 169 women (84 pre- and 85 post-menopausal), of which 39 had a history of osteoporotic fracture. BMD was measured by DXA at the spine. Analyses included parametric and non-parametric tests, dependent on the distribution of the test variable. Mean disulphide content of the nail reduced with age and was slightly higher in pre-, compared to post-menopausal women (P = 0.187). Significantly lower disulphide content was observed in nails obtained from subjects with a history of fracture (P = 0.025). When either disulphide content or BMD was used as a predictor, the odds ratio of these two measures were found to be comparable predictors for fracture status. This suggests that measurements of change in the protein phase of structural proteins such as keratin in the human nail may be correlated with clinically relevant changes in bone proteins that are important in fracture risk.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5


  1. M. C. NEVITT and S. R. CUMMINGS, Am. Geriatr. Soc. 41/11 (1993) 226

    Google Scholar 

  2. A. M. PARFITT, Calcif. Tissue. Int. 53 (1993) 2

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. S. M. Ott, A. M. Parfitt and L. G. Raisz, Calcif. Tissue. Int. 53 (1993) S7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. J. E. AARON, P. A. SHORE, R. C. SHORE, M. BENTON and J. A. KANIS, Bone 27/2 (2000) 277

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. X. BANSE, J. P. DEVOGELAER, C. DELLOYE, A. LAFOSSE, D. HOLMYARD and M. GRYNPAS, J. Bone. Miner. Res. 18/7 (2003) 1247

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. W. J. LANDIS, Bone 16/5 (1995) 533

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. B. STAMP, B. KUHN, C. LIESS, M. HELLER, and C. C. GLUER, Top. Magn. Reson. Imaging 13/5 (2002) 357

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. I. PILLAY, D. LYONS, M. J. GERMAN, N. S. LAWSON, H. M. POLLOCK, J. SAUNDERS, S. CHOWDHURY, P. MORAN and M. R. TOWLER, J. Women’s Health 14/4 (2005) 339

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. D. A. D. PARRY and A. C. T. NORTH, J. Struct. Biol 122 (1998) 67

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. H. G. M. EDWARDS, D. E. HUNT and M. G. SIBLEY, Spectrochim Acta A 54 (1998) 745

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. W. AKHTAR and H. G. M. EDWARDS, Spectrochim Acta A 53 (1997) 81

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. S. H. MCLAUGHLIN and N. J. BULLIED, Matrix Biol 167 (1998) 369

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. A. M. DELANY, M. AMLING, M. PRIEMEL, C. HOWE, R. BARON and E. CANALIS, J. Clin. Invest. 105 (2000) 915

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. D. L. GRIFFITH, P. C. KECK, T. K. SAMPATH, D. C. RUEGER and W. D. CARLSON, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 93 (1996) 878

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. C. SCHEUFLER, W. SEBALD and M. HULSMEYER, J. Mol. Biol. 287 (1999) 103

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. D. L. GRIFFITH, P. C. KECK, T. K. SAMPATH, D. C. RUEGER and W. D. CARLSON, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 93 (1996) 878

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


The financial assistance of Crescent Diagnostics (London, UK) and the Charities Aid Foundation (UK) is gratefully acknowledged.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to M. R. Towler.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Towler, M.R., Wren, A., Rushe, N. et al. Raman spectroscopy of the human nail: A potential tool for evaluating bone health?. J Mater Sci: Mater Med 18, 759–763 (2007).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Bone Mineral Density
  • Fracture Risk
  • Disulphide
  • Disulphide Bonding
  • Osseous Tissue