The meniscus is comprised of circumferentially aligned fibers that resist the tensile forces within the meniscus (i.e., hoop stress) that develop during loading of the knee. Although these circumferential fibers are severed by radial meniscal tears, tibial contact stresses do not increase until the tear reaches ∼90% of the meniscus width, suggesting that the severed circumferential fibers still bear load and maintain the mechanical functionality of the meniscus. Recent data demonstrates that the interfibrillar matrix can transfer strain energy to disconnected fibrils in tendon fascicles. In the meniscus, interdigitating radial tie fibers, which function to stabilize and bind the circumferential fibers together, are hypothesized to function in a similar manner by transmitting load to severed circumferential fibers near a radial tear. To test this hypothesis, we developed an engineered fibrous analog of the knee meniscus using poly(ε-caprolactone) to create aligned scaffolds with variable amounts of non-aligned elements embedded within the scaffold. We show that the tensile properties of these scaffolds are a function of the ratio of aligned to non-aligned elements, and change in a predictable fashion following a simple mixture model. When measuring the loss of mechanical function in scaffolds with a radial tear, compared to intact scaffolds, the decrease in apparent linear modulus was reduced in scaffolds containing non-aligned layers compared to purely aligned scaffolds. Increased strains in areas adjacent to the defect were also noted in composite scaffolds. These findings indicate that non-aligned (disorganized) elements interspersed within an aligned network can improve overall mechanical function by promoting strain transfer to nearby disconnected fibers. This finding supports the notion that radial tie fibers may similarly promote tear tolerance in the knee meniscus, and will direct changes in clinical practice and provide guidance for tissue engineering strategies.
Statement of significance: The meniscus is a complex fibrous tissue, whose architecture includes radial tie fibers that run perpendicular to and interdigitate with the predominant circumferential fibers. We hypothesized that these radial elements function to preserve mechanical function in the context of interruption of circumferential bundles, as would be the case in a meniscal tear. To test this hypothesis, we developed a biomaterial analog containing disorganized layers enmeshed regularly throughout an otherwise aligned network. Using this material formulation, we showed that strain transmission is improved in the vicinity of defects when disorganized fiber layers were present. This supports the idea that radial elements within the meniscus improve function near a tear, and will guide future clinical interventions and the development of engineered replacements.
Keywords: Electrospinning; Mechanical properties; Meniscus; Scaffold.
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