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Biorheology. 2006;43(3-4):537-45.

The mechanical environment of chondrocytes in articular cartilage.

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  • 1University of Bristol, Department of Anatomy, UK.


There is a growing literature concerning chondrocyte responses to mechanical loading, but relatively little is known about the mechanical environment these cells experience in a living joint. Calculations indicate that high forces are applied to limb joints whenever the joints are flexed, because flexion can cause body weight to act on long lever arms compared to the joint centre, whereas the muscles which extend the joint act on much shorter lever arms. As a result, joint reaction forces (which compress the cartilage) can rise to 3-6 times body weight during activities such as stair climbing. Articular cartilage tends to spread this load evenly over the joint surface, but is too thin to do this well, and compressive stresses can rise to 10-20 MPa. Within cartilage, matrix stresses vary locally, possibly as a result of variation in composition or undulations in the subchondral bone, and further modifications of stress occur within each chondron. Articular cartilage is a fibrous solid and cells within it are deformed by mechanical loading rather than subjected to a hydrostatic pressure. The mechanical environment of chondrocytes can best be reproduced in vitro by direct compression of the articular surface of cartilage which is supported naturally by adjacent cartilage and subchondral bone.

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