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Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2001 Aug;9(6):582-92.

In situ compressive stiffness, biochemical composition, and structural integrity of articular cartilage of the human knee joint.

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Institute of Pathology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.



Reduction of compressive stiffness of articular cartilage has been reported as one of the first signs of cartilage degeneration. For the measurement of in situ compressive stiffness, a hand-held indentation probe has recently been developed and baseline data for macroscopically normal knee joint cartilage were provided. However, the histological stage of degeneration of the measured cartilage was not known. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether there is a relationship between the in situ measured compressive stiffness, the histological stage of degeneration, and the biochemical composition of articular cartilage.


Instantaneous compressive stiffness was measured for the articular cartilage of 24 human cadaver knees. Additionally, biochemical composition (total proteoglycan and collagen content) and histological appearance (according to the Mankin score) were assessed for each measurement location.


Despite visually normal surfaces, various histological signs of degeneration were present. A high correlation between Mankin score and cartilage stiffness was observed for the lateral patellar groove (R(2)=0.81), the medial (R(2)=0.83) and the lateral femoral condyle (R(2)=0.71), whereas a moderate correlation was found for the medial patellar groove (R(2)=0.44). No correlation was observed between biochemical composition and cartilage compressive stiffness.


Our results are in agreement with others and show that the instantaneous compressive stiffness is primarily dependent on the integrity of the extracellular matrix, and not on the content of the major cartilage constituents. The high correlation between stiffness and Mankin score in mild osteoarthrosis suggests that the stage of cartilage degeneration can be assessed quantitatively with the hand-held indentation probe. Moderate and severe case of osteoarthrosis remains to be investigated.

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