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J Biomech Eng. 2008 Apr;130(2):021003. doi: 10.1115/1.2898725.

Importance of collagen orientation and depth-dependent fixed charge densities of cartilage on mechanical behavior of chondrocytes.

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  • 1Human Performance Laboratory, Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, T2N 1N4, Canada.


The collagen network and proteoglycan matrix of articular cartilage are thought to play an important role in controlling the stresses and strains in and around chondrocytes, in regulating the biosynthesis of the solid matrix, and consequently in maintaining the health of diarthrodial joints. Understanding the detailed effects of the mechanical environment of chondrocytes on cell behavior is therefore essential for the study of the development, adaptation, and degeneration of articular cartilage. Recent progress in macroscopic models has improved our understanding of depth-dependent properties of cartilage. However, none of the previous works considered the effect of realistic collagen orientation or depth-dependent negative charges in microscopic models of chondrocyte mechanics. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of the collagen network and fixed charge densities of cartilage on the mechanical environment of the chondrocytes in a depth-dependent manner. We developed an anisotropic, inhomogeneous, microstructural fibril-reinforced finite element model of articular cartilage for application in unconfined compression. The model consisted of the extracellular matrix and chondrocytes located in the superficial, middle, and deep zones. Chondrocytes were surrounded by a pericellular matrix and were assumed spherical prior to tissue swelling and load application. Material properties of the chondrocytes, pericellular matrix, and extracellular matrix were obtained from the literature. The loading protocol included a free swelling step followed by a stress-relaxation step. Results from traditional isotropic and transversely isotropic biphasic models were used for comparison with predictions from the current model. In the superficial zone, cell shapes changed from rounded to elliptic after free swelling. The stresses and strains as well as fluid flow in cells were greatly affected by the modulus of the collagen network. The fixed charge density of the chondrocytes, pericellular matrix, and extracellular matrix primarily affected the aspect ratios (height/width) and the solid matrix stresses of cells. The mechanical responses of the cells were strongly location and time dependent. The current model highlights that the collagen orientation and the depth-dependent negative fixed charge densities of articular cartilage have a great effect in modulating the mechanical environment in the vicinity of chondrocytes, and it provides an important improvement over earlier models in describing the possible pathways from loading of articular cartilage to the mechanical and biological responses of chondrocytes.

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