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PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37538. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037538. Epub 2012 May 23.

Chondrocyte deformations as a function of tibiofemoral joint loading predicted by a generalized high-throughput pipeline of multi-scale simulations.

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Computational Biomodeling (CoBi) Core and Department of Biomedical Engineering Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, United States of America.


Cells of the musculoskeletal system are known to respond to mechanical loading and chondrocytes within the cartilage are not an exception. However, understanding how joint level loads relate to cell level deformations, e.g. in the cartilage, is not a straightforward task. In this study, a multi-scale analysis pipeline was implemented to post-process the results of a macro-scale finite element (FE) tibiofemoral joint model to provide joint mechanics based displacement boundary conditions to micro-scale cellular FE models of the cartilage, for the purpose of characterizing chondrocyte deformations in relation to tibiofemoral joint loading. It was possible to identify the load distribution within the knee among its tissue structures and ultimately within the cartilage among its extracellular matrix, pericellular environment and resident chondrocytes. Various cellular deformation metrics (aspect ratio change, volumetric strain, cellular effective strain and maximum shear strain) were calculated. To illustrate further utility of this multi-scale modeling pipeline, two micro-scale cartilage constructs were considered: an idealized single cell at the centroid of a 100×100×100 μm block commonly used in past research studies, and an anatomically based (11 cell model of the same volume) representation of the middle zone of tibiofemoral cartilage. In both cases, chondrocytes experienced amplified deformations compared to those at the macro-scale, predicted by simulating one body weight compressive loading on the tibiofemoral joint. In the 11 cell case, all cells experienced less deformation than the single cell case, and also exhibited a larger variance in deformation compared to other cells residing in the same block. The coupling method proved to be highly scalable due to micro-scale model independence that allowed for exploitation of distributed memory computing architecture. The method's generalized nature also allows for substitution of any macro-scale and/or micro-scale model providing application for other multi-scale continuum mechanics problems.

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