Comparison between in vitro and in vivo cartilage overloading studies based on a systematic literature review

Mieke Nickien, Ashley Heuijerjans, Keita Ito, Corrinus C. van Donkelaar

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
138 Downloads (Pure)


Methodological differences between in vitro and in vivo studies on cartilage overloading complicate the comparison of outcomes. The rationale of the current review was to (i) identify consistencies and inconsistencies between in vitro and in vivo studies on mechanically-induced structural damage in articular cartilage, such that variables worth interesting to further explore using either one of these approaches can be identified; and (ii) suggest how the methodologies of both approaches may be adjusted to facilitate easier comparison and therewith stimulate translation of results between in vivo and in vitro studies. This study is anticipated to enhance our understanding of the development of osteoarthritis, and to reduce the number of in vivo studies. Generally, results of in vitro and in vivo studies are not contradicting. Both show subchondral bone damage and intact cartilage above a threshold value of impact energy. At lower loading rates, excessive loads may cause cartilage fissuring, decreased cell viability, collagen network de-structuring, decreased GAG content, an overall damage increase over time, and low ability to recover. This encourages further improvement of in vitro systems, to replace, reduce, and/or refine in vivo studies. However, differences in experimental set up and analyses complicate comparison of results. Ways to bridge the gap include (i) bringing in vitro set-ups closer to in vivo, for example, by aligning loading protocols and overlapping experimental timeframes; (ii) synchronizing analytical methods; and (iii) using computational models to translate conclusions from in vitro results to the in vivo environment and vice versa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2076-2086
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic Research
Issue number8
Early online date12 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018


  • cartilage
  • In vitro
  • In vivo
  • mechanics
  • post-traumatic OA


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