The knee meniscus: structure-function, pathophysiology, current repair techniques, and prospects for regeneration

Biomaterials. 2011 Oct;32(30):7411-31. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2011.06.037. Epub 2011 Jul 18.


Extensive scientific investigations in recent decades have established the anatomical, biomechanical, and functional importance that the meniscus holds within the knee joint. As a vital part of the joint, it acts to prevent the deterioration and degeneration of articular cartilage, and the onset and development of osteoarthritis. For this reason, research into meniscus repair has been the recipient of particular interest from the orthopedic and bioengineering communities. Current repair techniques are only effective in treating lesions located in the peripheral vascularized region of the meniscus. Healing lesions found in the inner avascular region, which functions under a highly demanding mechanical environment, is considered to be a significant challenge. An adequate treatment approach has yet to be established, though many attempts have been undertaken. The current primary method for treatment is partial meniscectomy, which commonly results in the progressive development of osteoarthritis. This drawback has shifted research interest toward the fields of biomaterials and bioengineering, where it is hoped that meniscal deterioration can be tackled with the help of tissue engineering. So far, different approaches and strategies have contributed to the in vitro generation of meniscus constructs, which are capable of restoring meniscal lesions to some extent, both functionally as well as anatomically. The selection of the appropriate cell source (autologous, allogeneic, or xenogeneic cells, or stem cells) is undoubtedly regarded as key to successful meniscal tissue engineering. Furthermore, a large variation of scaffolds for tissue engineering have been proposed and produced in experimental and clinical studies, although a few problems with these (e.g., byproducts of degradation, stress shielding) have shifted research interest toward new strategies (e.g., scaffoldless approaches, self-assembly). A large number of different chemical (e.g., TGF-β1, C-ABC) and mechanical stimuli (e.g., direct compression, hydrostatic pressure) have also been investigated, both in terms of encouraging functional tissue formation, as well as in differentiating stem cells. Even though the problems accompanying meniscus tissue engineering research are considerable, we are undoubtedly in the dawn of a new era, whereby recent advances in biology, engineering, and medicine are leading to the successful treatment of meniscal lesions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Humans
  • Menisci, Tibial / anatomy & histology
  • Menisci, Tibial / physiology*
  • Menisci, Tibial / physiopathology*
  • Regeneration*
  • Tissue Engineering / methods*
  • Tissue Scaffolds / chemistry