Raman needle arthroscopy for in vivo molecular assessment of cartilage

J Orthop Res. 2022 Jun;40(6):1338-1348. doi: 10.1002/jor.25155. Epub 2021 Aug 18.


The development of treatments for osteoarthritis (OA) is burdened by the lack of standardized biomarkers of cartilage health that can be applied in clinical trials. We present a novel arthroscopic Raman probe that can "optically biopsy" cartilage and quantify key extracellular matrix (ECM) biomarkers for determining cartilage composition, structure, and material properties in health and disease. Technological and analytical innovations to optimize Raman analysis include (1) multivariate decomposition of cartilage Raman spectra into ECM-constituent-specific biomarkers (glycosaminoglycan [GAG], collagen [COL], water [H2 O] scores), and (2) multiplexed polarized Raman spectroscopy to quantify superficial zone (SZ) COL anisotropy via a partial least squares-discriminant analysis-derived Raman collagen alignment factor (RCAF). Raman measurements were performed on a series of ex vivo cartilage models: (1) chemically GAG-depleted bovine cartilage explants (n = 40), (2) mechanically abraded bovine cartilage explants (n = 30), (3) aging human cartilage explants (n = 14), and (4) anatomical-site-varied ovine osteochondral explants (n = 6). Derived Raman GAG score biomarkers predicted 95%, 66%, and 96% of the variation in GAG content of GAG-depleted bovine explants, human explants, and ovine explants, respectively (p < 0.001). RCAF values were significantly different for explants with abrasion-induced SZ COL loss (p < 0.001). The multivariate linear regression of Raman-derived ECM biomarkers (GAG and H2 O scores) predicted 94% of the variation in elastic modulus of ovine explants (p < 0.001). Finally, we demonstrated the first in vivo Raman arthroscopy assessment of an ovine femoral condyle through intraarticular entry into the synovial capsule. This study advances Raman arthroscopy toward a transformative low-cost, minimally invasive diagnostic platform for objective monitoring of treatment outcomes from emerging OA therapies.

Keywords: Raman spectroscopy; articular cartilage; imaging; osteoarthritis diagnostics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthroscopy
  • Cartilage, Articular* / chemistry
  • Cattle
  • Collagen / analysis
  • Glycosaminoglycans / analysis
  • Humans
  • Osteoarthritis*
  • Sheep


  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Collagen