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J Biomech. 1998 Jan;31(1):81-6.

Ultrastructure and tensile properties of human tracheal cartilage.

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Department of Medicine, St. Paul's Hospital, and The MRC Network of Centers of Excellence in Respiratory Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


The cartilage of the walls of the trachea and bronchi acts to keep these airways open despite intrathoracic pressure differences during breathing that would otherwise collapse them and limit air flow. Changes in biomechanical properties and composition of airway cartilage may contribute to altered lung function in obstructive lung diseases. To investigate the relationship between collagen organization and equilibrium tensile modulus within the structure of airway cartilage, we used scanning electron microscopy (SEM), histochemistry and equilibrium tensile testing to analyze tracheal cartilage from 10 humans aged 17-81 yr. We show that the surfaces of tracheal cartilage matrix are collagen-rich and surround a proteoglycan-rich core. Collagen fibrils in the superficial zones are oriented in the plane of the cartilage surface. In deeper layers of the cartilage, collagen fibrils are oriented less regularly. Equilibrium tensile modulus of 100 microm thick strips of cartilage was measured and was found to decrease with depth; from 13.6 +/- 1.5 MPa for the ablumenal superficial zone to 4.6 +/- 1.7 MPa in the middle zone (means +/- S.D., n = 10, p < 0.001). Stress-strain curves were linear for strains up to 10% with minimal residual strain. This is consistent with a model in which collagen fibres in the outer layers of the cartilage resist tensile forces, and hydrated proteoglycans in the central zone resist compression forces as the cartilage crescent bends.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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