Biomineralization of skeletal components (e.g., bone and teeth) is generally accepted to occur under strict cellular regulation, leading to mineral–organic composites with hierarchical structures and properties optimized for their designated function. Such cellular regulation includes promoting mineralization at desired sites as well as inhibiting mineralization in soft tissues and other undesirable locations. In contrast, pathological mineralization, with potentially harmful health effects, can occur as a result of tissue or metabolic abnormalities, disease, or implantation of certain biomaterials. This progress report defines mineralization pathway components and identifies the commonalities (and differences) between physiological (e.g., bone remodeling) and pathological calcification formation pathways, based, in part, upon the extent of cellular control within the system. These concepts are discussed in representative examples of calcium phosphate-based pathological mineralization in cancer (breast, thyroid, ovarian, and meningioma) and in cardiovascular disease. In-depth mechanistic understanding of pathological mineralization requires utilizing state-of-the-art materials science imaging and characterization techniques, focusing not only on the final deposits, but also on the earlier stages of crystal nucleation, growth, and aggregation. Such mechanistic understanding will further enable the use of pathological calcifications in diagnosis and prognosis, as well as possibly provide insights into preventative treatments for detrimental mineralization in disease.
- breast cancer microcalcifications
- cardiovascular calcifications
- psammoma bodies