Effects of proteoglycan extraction on the tensile behavior of articular cartilage

J Orthop Res. 1990 May;8(3):353-63. doi: 10.1002/jor.1100080307.


We undertook an interdisciplinary biomechanical and biochemical study to explore the extent and manner in which the total pool of proteoglycans influences the kinetic and static behavior of bovine articular cartilage in tension. Two biomechanical tests were used: (a) the viscoelastic creep test and (b) a slow constant-rate uniaxial tension test; and two enzymatic proteoglycan extraction procedures were used: (a) chondroitinase ABC treatment and (b) a sequential enzymatic treatment with chondroitinase ABC, trypsin, and Streptomyces hyaluronidase. We found that the viscoelastic creep response of all cartilage specimens may be divided into two distinct phases: an initial phase (less than 15 s), characterized by a rapid increase in strain following load application, and a late phase (15 s less than or equal to t less than 25,000 s), characterized by a more gradual increase in strain. A major finding of this study is that the kinetics of the creep response is greatly influenced by the glycosaminoglycan content of the tissue. For untreated and control specimens, the initial response comprises about 50% of the total strain, while for chondroitinase ABC and sequentially extracted specimens, the initial response comprises up to 83% of the total strain. Furthermore, most untreated and control specimens did not reach equilibrium within the 25,000 s test period, while enzymatically digested specimens often reached equilibrium in less than 100 s. Thus, we conclude that through their physical restraints on collagen, the bulk of proteoglycan present in the tissue acts to retard fibrillar reorganization and alignment under tensile loading, thereby effectively preventing sudden extension of the collagen network. In contrast, the results of our slow constant-rate uniaxial tension experiment show that essentially complete extraction of proteoglycan glycosaminoglycans does not affect the intrinsic tensile stiffness and strength of cartilage specimens or the collagen network in a significant manner. Hence, an important function of the bulk proteoglycans (i.e., the large aggregating type) in cartilage is to retard the rate of stretch and alignment when a tensile load is suddenly applied. This mechanism may be useful in protecting the cartilage collagen network during physiological situations, where sudden impact forces are imposed on a joint.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cartilage, Articular / drug effects*
  • Cartilage, Articular / physiology
  • Cattle
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Collagen / pharmacology
  • Collagen / physiology
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism
  • Proteoglycans / pharmacology*
  • Proteoglycans / physiology
  • Tensile Strength / drug effects
  • Tensile Strength / physiology


  • Proteoglycans
  • Collagen