BoneKEy Reports | Reviews

The contribution of collagen crosslinks to bone strength

Patrick Garnero



Collagen crosslinking is a major post-translational modification of collagen which has important roles in determining the biomechanical competence of bone. Crosslinks can be divided into enzymatic lysil oxidase-mediated and non-enzymatic glycation-induced (advanced glycation end products, AGE) molecules. In addition, collagen in bone can also undergo spontaneous isomerization and racemization of the aspartic acid residues with the C-telopeptide (CTX), leading to the formation of two isomers namely α (newly formed collagen) and β (matured isomerized collagen) CTX. Several in vitro and ex vivo studies, relating the bone content of these crosslinks with bone strength, have shown that they contributed to the mechanical competence of trabecular and cortical bone—mainly on the post-yield properties—in part independent of the bone mineral content. In addition, AGEs such as pentosidine have been reported to alter the formation and propagation of microdamage by making the bone more brittle. The bone content of AGEs and isomerization can also be modified by antiresorptive and anabolic therapies. They may thus explain part of the antifracture efficacy of these treatments. The main challenge consists in the transposition of these in vitro/ex vivo studies to clinical applications for the development of a non-invasive biomarker, as none of currently identified collagen crosslinks (both enzymatic and nonenzymatic) is bone specific. Nevertheless, serum or urine levels of pentosidine and the ratio of α/β CTX have been reported to predict fracture risk in postmenopausal women, in men and in patients with type 2 diabetes.

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