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J Orthop Res. 1999 Jul;17(4):509-17.

Mechanically modulated cartilage growth may regulate joint surface morphogenesis.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University, California 94305-4040, USA.


The development of normal joints depends on mechanical function in utero. Experimental studies have shown that the normal surface topography of diarthrodial joints fails to form in paralyzed embryos. We implemented a mathematical model for joint morphogenesis that explores the hypothesis that the stress distribution created in a functional joint may modulate the growth of the cartilage anlagen and lead to the development of congruent articular surfaces. We simulated the morphogenesis of a human finger joint (proximal interphalangeal joint) between days 55 and 70 of fetal life. A baseline biological growth rate was defined to account for the intrinsic biological influences on the growth of the articulating ends of the anlagen. We assumed this rate to be proportional to the chondrocyte density in the growing tissue. Cyclic hydrostatic stress caused by joint motion was assumed to modulate the baseline biological growth, with compression slowing it and tension accelerating it. Changes in the overall shape of the joint resulted from spatial differences in growth rates throughout the developing chondroepiphyses. When only baseline biological growth was included, the two epiphyses increased in size but retained convex incongruent joint surfaces. The inclusion of mechanobiological-based growth modulation in the chondroepiphyses led to one convex joint surface, which articulated with a locally concave surface. The articular surfaces became more congruent, and the anlagen exhibited an asymmetric sagittal profile similar to that observed in adult phalangeal bones. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that mechanobiological influences associated with normal function play an important role in the regulation of joint morphogenesis.

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