Cartilage breaks down during mechanically-mediated osteoarthritis (OA). While previous research has begun to elucidate mechanical, structural and cellular damage in response to cyclic loading, gaps remain in our understanding of the link between cyclic cartilage loading and OA-like mechanical damage. Thus, the aim of this study was to quantify irreversible cartilage damage in response to cyclic loading. A novel in vitro model of damage through cartilage-on-cartilage cyclic loading was established. Cartilage was loaded at 1 Hz to two different doses (10,000 or 50,000 cycles) between -6.0 ± 0.2 MPa and -10.3 ± 0.2 MPa 1st Piola-Kirchhoff stress. After loading, mechanical damage (altered mechanical properties: elastic moduli and dissipated energy) and structural damage (surface damage and specimen thickness) were quantified. Linear and tangential moduli were determined by fitting the loading portion of the stress-strain curves. Dissipated energy was calculated from the area between loading and unloading stress-strain curves. Specimen thickness was measured both before and after loading. Surface damage was assessed by staining samples with India ink, then imaging the articular surface. Cyclic loading resulted in dose-dependent decreases in linear and tangential moduli, energy dissipation, thickness, and intact area. Collectively, these results show that cartilage damage can be initiated by mechanical loading alone in vitro, suggesting that cyclic loading can cause in vivo damage. This study demonstrated that with increased number of cycles, cartilage undergoes both tissue softening and structural damage. These findings are a first step towards characterizing the cartilage response to cyclic loading, which can ultimately provide important insight for delaying the initiation and slowing the progression of OA.
Keywords: Articular cartilage; Cartilage-on-Cartilage; Cyclic loading; Damage; Fatigue.
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