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Changes in crystal size and orientation of acidic glycosaminoglycans at the fracture site in fractured necks of femur

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The aim of this study was to try to elucidate the increased susceptibility of the neck of femur to fracture. Quantitative polarised light microscopy has been applied to fresh, undecalcified sections of samples of bone taken from the site of fracture, in specimens taken at operation from patients with fractures of the femoral neck or osteoarthritic femoral heads or from the equivalent site from otherwise normal subjects at necropsy. In all 21 specimens of fractured necks of femur, but in none of the other specimens, relatively large crystals (up to 2.5 X 0.5 micrometres) were found close to the site of fracture; the properties of these crystals were compatible with their being apatite. Measurement of the natural birefringence of the collagen showed no difference in the orientation of the collagen in all three types of specimen. However, the orientation of acidic glycosaminoglycans, measured by the birefringence of alcian blue bound to these moieties, was 45 per cent lower in the specimens from fractured necks of femur than in the other specimens, even though the total content of acidic glycosaminoglycans was unchanged. Although the decreased orientation was most marked close to the site of fracture, it was still apparent 15 millimetres from that site. These changes were unlikely to be simply the sequelae of fracture since they were not found in traumatic fractures of other bones. Thus it is conceivable that changes in the orientation of the ground substance allow formation of relatively large crystals of apatite and that such crystals, in the microcrystalline mass of apatite, are the cause of the increased fragility of such bones.

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