Biomechanical, biochemical and structural correlations in immature and mature rabbit articular cartilage

Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2009 Dec;17(12):1628-38. doi: 10.1016/j.joca.2009.07.002. Epub 2009 Jul 8.


Objective: The structure and composition of articular cartilage change during development and growth. These changes lead to alterations in the mechanical properties of cartilage. In the present study, biomechanical, biochemical and structural relationships of articular cartilage during growth and maturation of rabbits are investigated.

Design: Articular cartilage specimens from the tibial medial plateaus and femoral medial condyles of female New Zealand white rabbits were collected from seven age-groups; 0 days (n=29), 11 days (n=30), 4 weeks (n=30), 6 weeks (n=30), 3 months (n=24), 6 months (n=24) and 18 months (n=19). The samples underwent mechanical testing under creep indentation. From the mechanical response, instantaneous and equilibrium moduli were determined. Biochemical analyses of tissue collagen, hydroxylysylpyridinoline (HP) and pentosidine (PEN) cross-links in full thickness cartilage samples were conducted. Proteoglycans were investigated depth-wise from the tissue sections by measuring the optical density of Safranin-O-stained samples. Furthermore, depth-wise collagen architecture of articular cartilage was analyzed with polarized light microscopy. Finite element analyses of the samples from different age-groups were conducted to reveal tensile and compressive properties of the fibril network and the matrix of articular cartilage, respectively.

Results: Tissue thickness decreased from approximately 3 to approximately 0.5mm until the age of 3 months, while the instantaneous modulus increased with age prior to peak at 4-6 weeks. A lower equilibrium modulus was observed before 3-month-age, after which the equilibrium modulus continued to increase. Collagen fibril orientation angle and parallelism index were inversely related to the instantaneous modulus, tensile fibril modulus and tissue thickness. Collagen content and cross-linking were positively related to the equilibrium compressive properties of the tissue.

Conclusions: During maturation, significant modulation of tissue structure, composition and mechanical properties takes place. Importantly, the present study provides insight into the mechanical, chemical and structural interactions that lead to functional properties of mature articular cartilage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cartilage, Articular / growth & development
  • Cartilage, Articular / physiology*
  • Collagen / chemistry
  • Female
  • Knee Joint / physiology*
  • Rabbits
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Tensile Strength / physiology*
  • Tibia / growth & development
  • Tibia / physiology*
  • Weight-Bearing


  • Collagen