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Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2003 Jul;11(7):508-18.

Early osteoarthritic changes of human femoral head cartilage subsequent to femoro-acetabular impingement.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Berne, Berne, Switzerland.



To use the surgical samples of patients with femoro-acetabular impingement due to a nonspherical head to analyze tissue morphology and early cartilage changes in a mechanical model of hip osteoarthritis (OA).


An aberrant nonspherical shape of the femoral head has been assumed to cause an abutment conflict (impingement mechanism) of the hip with subsequent cartilage lesions of the acetabular rim and surface alterations of the nonspherical portion of the head. In this study, 22 samples of the nonspherical portions of the head have been obtained during hip surgery from young adults (mean 30.4 years, range 19-45 years) with an impingement conflict. The samples were first compared with tissue from the same area obtained from six age-matched deceased persons (control group) with normal hip morphology and second with cartilage from 14 older patients with advanced OA. All samples were characterized histologically and hyaline cartilage was graded according to the Mankin criteria. They were further subjected to examination on a molecular basis by immunohistology for cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP), tenascin-C and a collagenase cleavage product (COL2-3/4C(long)) and by in situ hybridization for collagen type I and collagen type II.


All samples from the patient group revealed hyaline cartilage with degenerative signs. According to the Mankin criteria, the cartilage alterations were significantly different when compared with the control group (p=0.007) but were less distinct when compared with cartilage from patients with advanced OA (p=0.014). Positive staining and distribution pattern for COMP, tenascin-C and COL2-3/4C(long) showed similarities between the samples from the impingement group and osteoarthritic cartilage but they were distinctly different when compared with healthy cartilage. Levels of collagen I and II transcripts were upregulated in 6 and 10, respectively, of the 14 samples with OA and in 9 and 12, respectively, of the 22 samples from the impingement group. None of the samples from the control group showed upregulation of Collagen I and II mRNA.


The aberrant nonspherical portion of the femoral head in young patients with an impingement conflict consists of hyaline cartilage which shows clear degenerative signs similar to the findings in osteoarthritic cartilage. The tissue alterations are distinctly different when compared with a control group, which substantiates an impingement conflict as an early mechanism for degeneration at the hip joint periphery.

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