Ratio between mature and immature enzymatic cross-links correlates with post-yield cortical bone behavior: An insight into greenstick fractures of the child fibula

  • Berteau Jean-Philippe
  • Gineyts Evelyne
  • Pithioux Martine
  • Baron Cécile
  • Boivin Georges
  • Lasaygues Philippe
  • Chabrand Patrick
  • Follet Hélène

  • Collagen cross-links
  • Mechanical properties
  • Post-yield behavior
  • Children's bone


As a determinant of skeletal fragility, the organic matrix is responsible for the post-yield and creep behavior of bone and for its toughness, while the mineral apatite acts on stiffness. Specific to the fibula and ulna in children, greenstick fractures show a plastic in vivo mechanical behavior before bone fracture. During growth, the immature form of collagen enzymatic cross-links gradually decreases, to be replaced by the mature form until adolescence, subsequently remaining constant throughout adult life. However, the link between the cortical bone organic matrix and greenstick fractures in children remains to be explored. Here, we sought to determine: 1) whether plastic bending fractures can occur in vitro, by testing cortical bone samples from children's fibula and 2) whether the post-yield behavior (ωp plastic energy) of cortical bone before fracture is related to total quantity of the collagen matrix, or to the quantity of mature and immature enzymatic cross-links and the quantity of non-enzymatic cross-links. We used a two-step approach; first, a 3-point microbending device tested 22 fibula machined bone samples from 7 children and 3 elderly adults until fracture. Second, biochemical analysis by HPLC was performed on the sample fragments. When pooling two groups of donors, children and elderly adults, results show a rank correlation between total energy dissipated before fracture and age and a linear correlation between plastic energy dissipated before fracture and ratio of immature/mature cross-links. A collagen matrix with more immature cross-links (i.e. a higher immature/mature cross-link ratio) is more likely to plastically deform before fracture. We conclude that this ratio in the sub-nanostructure of the organic matrix in cortical bone from the fibula may go some way towards explaining the variance in post-yield behavior. From a clinical point of view, therefore, our results provide a potential explanation of the presence of greenstick fractures in children