Nanomechanics of the Cartilage Extracellular Matrix

Annu Rev Mater Res. 2011 Jul 1;41:133-168. doi: 10.1146/annurev-matsci-062910-100431.


Cartilage is a hydrated biomacromolecular fiber composite located at the ends of long bones that enables proper joint lubrication, articulation, loading, and energy dissipation. Degradation of extracellular matrix molecular components and changes in their nanoscale structure greatly influence the macroscale behavior of the tissue and result in dysfunction with age, injury, and diseases such as osteoarthritis. Here, the application of the field of nanomechanics to cartilage is reviewed. Nanomechanics involves the measurement and prediction of nanoscale forces and displacements, intra- and intermolecular interactions, spatially varying mechanical properties, and other mechanical phenomena existing at small length scales. Experimental nanomechanics and theoretical nanomechanics have been applied to cartilage at varying levels of material complexity, e.g., nanoscale properties of intact tissue, the matrix associated with single cells, biomimetic molecular assemblies, and individual extracellular matrix biomolecules (such as aggrecan, collagen, and hyaluronan). These studies have contributed to establishing a fundamental mechanism-based understanding of native and engineered cartilage tissue function, quality, and pathology.