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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011 Dec;111(6):1590-6. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00848.2011. Epub 2011 Sep 8.

Regional variation in the mechanical role of knee meniscus glycosaminoglycans.

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  • 1UC Davis, Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


High compressive properties of cartilaginous tissues are commonly attributed to the sulfated glycosaminoglycan (GAG) fraction of the extracellular matrix (ECM), but this relationship has not been directly measured in the knee meniscus, which shows regional variation in GAG content. In this study, biopsies from each meniscus region (outer, middle, and inner) were either subjected to chondroitinase ABC (CABC) to remove all sulfated GAGs or not. Compressive testing revealed that GAG depletion in the inner and middle meniscus regions caused a significant decrease in modulus of relaxation (58% and 41% decreases, respectively, at 20% strain), and all regions exhibited a significant decrease in viscosity (outer: 29%; middle: 58%; inner: 62% decrease). Tensile properties following CABC treatment were unaffected for outer and middle meniscus specimens, but the inner meniscus displayed significant increases in Young's modulus (41% increase) and ultimate tensile stress (40% increase) following GAG depletion. These findings suggest that, in the outer meniscus, GAGs contribute to increasing tissue viscosity, whereas in the middle and inner meniscus, where GAGs are most abundant, these molecules also enhance the tissue's ability to withstand compressive loads. GAGs in the inner meniscus also contribute to reducing the circumferential tensile properties of the tissue, perhaps due to the pre-stress on the collagen network from increased hydration of the ECM. Understanding the mechanical role of GAGs in each region of the knee meniscus is important for understanding meniscus structure-function relationships and creating design criteria for functional meniscus tissue engineering efforts.

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