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J Struct Biol. 2009 Dec;168(3):527-38. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2009.07.005. Epub 2009 Jul 10.

Ultrastructure of avian eggshell during resorption following egg fertilization.

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Faculty of Dentistry, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


For skeletal mineralization, the avian embryo mobilizes calcium from its calcitic eggshell. This occurs through dissolution of specific interior regions of the shell in a process that also weakens the shell to allow hatching. Here, we have examined eggshell ultrastructure during dissolution occurring between laying of a fertilized egg (with incubation) and hatching of the chick (Gallus gallus). We have focused on changes in shell mammillae where the majority of dissolution takes place. Using scanning electron microscopy, we describe differences in matrix-mineral structure and relationships not observed in unfertilized eggs (unresorbed eggshell). We document changes in the calcium reserve body - an essential sub-compartment of mammillae - consistent with it being an early, primary source of calcium essential for embryonic skeletal growth. Dissolution events occurring in the calcium reserve sac and in the base plate of the calcium reserve body, and similar changes in surrounding bulk mammillae structure, all correlate with advancing skeletal embryonic calcification. The changes in mammillae sub-structures can generally be characterized as mineral dissolutions revealing fine surface topographies on remaining mineral surfaces and the exposure of an extensive, intracrystalline (occluded) organic matrix network. We propose that this mineral-occluded network regulates how shell mineral is dissolved by providing dissolution channels facilitating calcium release for the embryonic skeleton.

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