Differential accumulation of lead and zinc in double-tidemarks of articular cartilage

Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2013 Nov;21(11):1707-15. doi: 10.1016/j.joca.2013.06.029. Epub 2013 Jul 5.


Introduction: Long-term exposure to increased lead (Pb) concentrations is associated with several chronic diseases. The divalent cation zinc (Zn) is essential for numerous enzymes. In a recent study we found remarkably elevated concentrations of Pb and Zn in the tidemark (TM), which is the mineralization front of human articular cartilage.

Objective: Duplication or multiplication of TMs occurs with advancing age or degeneration. We hypothesized that trace elements accumulate in TMs as a function of time. Thus, in cases of double TMs, the deep (older) TM should contain higher Pb and Zn concentrations than the superficial (younger) TM.

Design: Undecalcified tissue from articular cartilage and subchondral bone of femoral heads and patellae was examined by synchrotron radiation induced confocal micro X-ray fluorescence analysis and by quantitative backscattered electron imaging to determine the local distribution of Ca, Zn, and Pb in this tissue.

Results: The evaluation of X-ray fluorescence intensities in double TMs revealed in average a 2.6-fold higher Pb level in the deep TM compared to the superficial TM while Zn concentrations were similar. Pb and Zn contents were significantly enhanced in the deep TM (Pb: 35-fold, Zn: five-fold) and in the superficial TM (Pb: 12-fold, Zn: five-fold) compared to the bone level.

Conclusion: For the first time a differential accumulation of Pb and Zn is documented in regions with double TMs revealing various timescales for the accumulation of these elements. Increased amounts of Pb are present in the TMs (up to the 62-fold of the bone level) featuring a potential source of internal Pb release if the TM region is destroyed.

Keywords: Cartilage; Lead; Quantitative backscattered electron imaging; Synchrotron radiation induced confocal micro X-ray fluorescence analysis; Tidemark; Trace elements; Zinc.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cartilage, Articular / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Femur Head / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lead / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis, Hip / metabolism
  • Patella / metabolism
  • Spectrometry, X-Ray Emission / methods
  • Zinc / metabolism*


  • Lead
  • Zinc