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Mater Sci Eng C Mater Biol Appl. 2011 May 10;31(4):781-788.

Polymer Mechanics as a Model for Short-Term and Flow-Independent Cartilage Viscoelasticity.

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1
Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, 92093.

Abstract

Articular cartilage is the load bearing soft tissue that covers the contacting surfaces of long bones in articulating joints. Healthy cartilage allows for smooth joint motion, while damaged cartilage prohibits normal function in debilitating joint diseases such as osteoarthritis. Knowledge of cartilage mechanical function through the progression of osteoarthritis, and in response to innovative regeneration treatments, requires a comprehensive understanding of the molecular nature of interacting extracellular matrix constituents and interstitial fluid. The objectives of this study were therefore to (1) examine the timescale of cartilage stress-relaxation using different mechanistic models and (2) develop and apply a novel (termed "sticky") polymer mechanics model to cartilage stress-relaxation based on temporary binding of constituent macromolecules. Using data from calf cartilage samples, we found that different models captured distinct timescales of cartilage stress-relaxation: monodisperse polymer reptation best described the first second of relaxation, sticky polymer mechanics best described data from ∼1-100 seconds of relaxation, and a model of inviscid fluid flow through a porous elastic matrix best described data from 100 seconds to equilibrium. Further support for the sticky polymer model was observed using experimental data where cartilage stress-relaxation was measured in either low or high salt concentration. These data suggest that a complete understanding of cartilage mechanics, especially in the short time scales immediately following loading, requires appreciation of both fluid flow and the polymeric behavior of the extracellular matrix.

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