BACKGROUND: Cartilage surface contact geometry influences the deformational behavior and stress distribution throughout the extracellular matrix (ECM) under load.
OBJECTIVE: To test the correlation between the mechanical and cellular response of articular cartilage when loaded with two different-sized spherical indenters under dynamic reciprocating sliding motion.
METHODS: Articular cartilage explants were subjected to a reciprocating sliding load using a 17.6 mm or 30.2 mm spherical ball for 2000 cycles at 10 mm/s and 4 kg axial load. Deformation of the cartilage was recorded and contact parameters were calculated according to Hertzian theory. After mechanical loading cartilage samples were collected and analyzed for ECM collagen damage, gene regulation and proteoglycan (PG) loss.
RESULTS: Significantly higher ECM deformation and strain and lower dynamic effective modulus were found for explants loaded with the smaller diameter indenter whereas contact radius and stress remained unaffected. Also, the 17.6 mm indenter increased PG loss and significantly upregulated genes for ECM proteins and enzymes as compared to the 30.2 mm indenter.
CONCLUSION: Sliding loads that increase ECM deformation/strain were found to induce enzyme-mediated catabolic processes in articular cartilage explants. These observations provide further understanding of how changes in cartilage contact mechanics under dynamic conditions can affect the cellular response.