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Lab Anim. 2007 Oct;41(4):420-31.

The sheep as a knee osteoarthritis model: early cartilage changes after meniscus injury and repair.

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Department of Trauma Surgery, University of Bonn Medical Center, Sigmund Freud Str 25, D-53127 Bonn, Germany. christof.burger@ukb.uni-bon


The purpose of this study was to analyse cartilage changes after traumatic meniscal lesions and to provide a detailed description of the model used with a view to reducing the number of animals used in future studies. The sheep's knee was chosen, as ovine biomechanics are similar to that of humans. In two groups of 10 animals each, a radial tear in the medial meniscus was either sutured with polydioxanone (PDS) or left untreated (sham-operated). Half of the animals in each group were sacrificed after six months, the other half after one year. The time periods to achieve weight bearing, meniscus healing, joint effusion (magnetic resonance imaging scan) and knee cartilage in the medial, lateral and patellofemoral compartments were evaluated in comparison to the opposite knee (control). Osteoarthritis (OA) was assessed by a modified Outerbridge classification and confirmed by scanning electron microscopy. Only one sutured meniscus remained completely adapted. In all other meniscus lesions, the rupture healed with a scar. In the PDS and sham-operated groups, OA was significantly higher in the medial knee compartment than in the lateral compartment and in controls (P < 0.001). In the operated groups, joint effusion was higher in the right hindlimb knee than in the normal left hindlimb knee (control) after six and 12 months (P < 0.001). Non-treated, displaced and even adapted sutured radial ovine meniscus tears produced intense OA within less than six months. Therefore, this animal model is suitable for assessment of new therapeutic regimens in meniscal surgery.

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