Bone matrix development in steroid-induced osteoporosis is associated with a consistently reduced fibrillar stiffness linked to altered bone mineral quality.
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Glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis (GIOP) is a major secondary form of osteoporosis, with the fracture risk significantly elevated - at similar levels of bone mineral density - in patients taking glucocorticoids compared with non-users. The adverse bone structural changes at multiple hierarchical levels in GIOP, and their mechanistic consequences leading to reduced load-bearing capacity, are not clearly understood. Here we combine experimental X-ray nanoscale mechanical imaging with analytical modelling of the bone matrix mechanics to determine mechanisms causing bone material quality deterioration during development of GIOP. In situ synchrotron small-angle X-ray diffraction combined with tensile testing was used to measure nanoscale deformation mechanisms in a murine model of GIOP, due to a corticotrophin-releasing hormone promoter mutation, at multiple ages (8-, 12-, 24- and 36 weeks), complemented by quantitative micro-computed tomography and backscattered electron imaging to determine mineral concentrations. We develop a two-level hierarchical model of the bone matrix (mineralized fibril and lamella) to predict fibrillar mechanical response as a function of architectural parameters of the mineralized matrix. The fibrillar elastic modulus of GIOP-bone is lower than healthy bone throughout development, and nearly constant in time, in contrast to the progressively increasing stiffness in healthy bone. The lower mineral platelet aspect ratio value for GIOP compared to healthy bone in the multiscale model can explain the fibrillar deformation. Consistent with this result, independent measurement of mineral platelet lengths from wide-angle X-ray diffraction finds a shorter mineral platelet length in GIOP. Our results show how lowered mineralization combined with altered mineral nanostructure in GIOP leads to lowered mechanical competence. Significance Statement Increased fragility in musculoskeletal disorders like osteoporosis are believed to arise due to alterations in bone structure at multiple length-scales from the organ down to the supramolecular-level, where collagen molecules and elongated mineral nanoparticles form stiff fibrils. However, the nature of these molecular-level alterations are not known. Here we used X-ray scattering to determine both how bone fibrils deform in secondary osteoporosis, as well as how the fibril orientation and mineral nanoparticle structure changes. We found that osteoporotic fibrils become less stiff both because the mineral nanoparticles became shorter and less efficient at transferring load from collagen, and because the fibrils are more randomly oriented. These results will help in the design of new composite musculoskeletal implants for bone repair.