Objective: Determination of the spatial distribution of the toxic element lead (Pb) and other trace elements in normal articular cartilage and subchondral bone from adult humans with no history of work-related exposure to Pb.
Methods: Four macroscopically normal femoral heads and three patellas were harvested from randomly selected forensic autopsies. All subjects died of acute illnesses, had no history of work-related exposure to Pb and had no metabolic bone disease. The elemental distribution of lead (Pb) together with zinc (Zn), strontium (Sr) and calcium (Ca) in the chondral and subchondral region was detected using high resolution synchrotron radiation induced micro X-ray fluorescence (SR mu-XRF) analysis. SR mu-XRF line scans in conventional and SR mu-XRF area scans in confocal geometry were correlated to backscattered electron (BE) images visualizing the mineralized tissue.
Results: In all samples, we found a highly specific accumulation of Pb in the tidemark, the transition zone between calcified and non-calcified articular cartilage. Pb fluorescence intensities in the tidemark, which is thought to be a metabolically active mineralization front, were 13-fold higher when compared to subchondral bone. Pb intensities in the subchondral region were strongly correlated with Zn, but were distinctly different from Ca and Sr.
Conclusions: The finding of the highly specific accumulation of lead in the tidemark of human articular cartilage is novel. However at this point, the exact mechanisms of the local Pb accumulation as well as its clinical implications are unknown.