Calcification of aortic valve leaflets is a growing mortality threat for the 18 million human lives claimed globally each year by heart disease. Extensive research has focused on the cellular and molecular pathophysiology associated with calcification, yet the detailed composition, structure, distribution and etiological history of mineral deposition remains unknown. Here transdisciplinary geology, biology and medicine (GeoBioMed) approaches prove that leaflet calcification is driven by amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP), ACP at the threshold of transformation toward hydroxyapatite (HAP) and cholesterol biomineralization. A paragenetic sequence of events is observed that includes: (1) original formation of unaltered leaflet tissues: (2) individual and coalescing 100’s nm- to 1 μm-scale ACP spherules and cholesterol crystals biomineralizing collagen fibers and smooth muscle cell myofilaments; (3) osteopontin coatings that stabilize ACP and collagen containment of nodules preventing exposure to the solution chemistry and water content of pumping blood, which combine to slow transformation to HAP; (4) mm-scale nodule growth via ACP spherule coalescence, diagenetic incorporation of altered collagen and aggregation with other ACP nodules; and (5) leaflet diastole and systole flexure causing nodules to twist, fold their encasing collagen fibers and increase stiffness. These in vivo mechanisms combine to slow leaflet calcification and establish previously unexplored hypotheses for testing novel drug therapies and clinical interventions as viable alternatives to current reliance on surgical/percutaneous valve implants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12222
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024


  • Amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP)
  • Aortic valve
  • Cardiovascular calcification
  • Cholesterol
  • Coalescing spherules
  • Collagen alteration
  • Collagen containment
  • GeoBioMed
  • Hydroxyapatite (HAP)
  • Lipids
  • Nodules
  • Osteopontin
  • Spherules
  • Super-resolution autofluorescence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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