How a decreased fibrillar interconnectivity influences stiffness and swelling properties during early cartilage degeneration

M. Nickien, A. Thambyah, N.D. Broom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


Objective The functional coupling between the fibrillar network and the high-swelling proteoglycans largely determines the mechanical properties of the articular cartilage matrix. The objective of this new study was to show specifically how changes in fibrillar interconnectivity arising from early cartilage degeneration influence transverse stiffness and swelling properties at the tissue level. Design Radial zone transverse layers of cartilage matrix were obtained from intact and mildly degenerate bovine patellae. Each layer was then subdivided to assess tensile stiffness, free-swelling response, glycosaminoglycan (GAG) content, and micro- and ultra-structural features. Results The tensile modulus was significantly lower and the degree of swelling significantly higher for the degenerate matrix compared to the intact. Scanning electron microscopy revealed a homogeneous response to transverse strain in the intact cartilage, whereas large non-fibrillar spaces between fibril aggregates were visible in the degenerate matrix. Although there were no significant differences in GAG content it did correlate significantly with stiffness and swelling in the intact samples but not in the degenerate. Conclusions The lower degree of fibril network interconnectivity in the degenerate matrix led to both a decreased transverse stiffness and reduced resistance to osmotic swelling. This network ‘de-structuring’ also resulted in a reduced functional interaction between the fibrillar network and the proteoglycans. The study provides new insights into the role of the fibrillar network and how changes in the network arising from the degenerative cascade will influence tissue level behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)390-398
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • Cartilage
  • Collagen network de-structuring
  • Degeneration
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Cartilage, Articular/pathology
  • Glycosaminoglycans/analysis
  • Extracellular Matrix/pathology
  • Collagen/ultrastructure
  • Patella/pathology
  • Animals
  • Proteoglycans/analysis
  • Cattle


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