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Ann Anat. 2005 Nov;187(5-6):473-85.

Pathomechanisms of cartilage destruction by mechanical injury.

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  • 1Anatomisches Institut der Christian-Albrechts-Universit√§t zu Kiel, Olshausenstrasse 40, D-24098, Kiel, Germany. bkurz@anat.uni-kiel.de


Mechanical injury is considered to be a major inductor of articular cartilage destruction and therefore a risk factor for the development of secondary osteoarthritis. Mechanical injury induces damage to the tissue matrix directly or mediated by chondrocytes via expression of matrix-degrading enzymes and reduction of biosynthetic activity. As a consequence the mechanical properties of cartilage change. Some of the pathomechanisms of mechanical injury have already been uncovered by the use of a broad range of in vitro-models. They demonstrate that mechanical injury induces tissue swelling and decrease in both the compressive and shear stiffness of articular cartilage, probably due to disruption of the collagen network. Injurious compression induces chondrocyte death by necrosis and apoptosis and the remaining cells decrease their biosynthetic activity. The tissue content of proteoglycans also decreases with time in injured cartilage, and the tissue loses its ability to respond to physiological levels of mechanical stimulation with an increase in biosynthesis. Immature cartilage seems to be more vulnerable to injurious compression than more mature tissue. The expression of several matrix-degrading enzymes like ADAM-TS5 and matrix-metalloproteinases (MMP-1, MMP-2, MMP-3, MMP-9, MMP-13) is increased after injury and may in part be regulated by an autocrine vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-dependent signalling pathway. Apoptosis seems to be mediated by caspase activity and reactive oxygen species. For that reason activation of antioxidative defense mechanisms as well as the inhibition of angiogenetic factors and MMPs might be key regulators in the mechanically induced destruction of cartilage and might be suggested as potential therapeutic interventions. This review summarizes some of the most important data from in vitro injury studies dealing with the pathomechanisms of cartilage destruction.

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