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Combined enzymatic degradation of proteoglycans and collagen significantly alters intratissue strains in articular cartilage during cyclic compression.


As degenerative joint diseases such as osteoarthritis (OA) progress, the matrix constituents, particularly collagen fibrils and proteoglycans, become damaged, therefore deteriorating the tissue's mechanical properties. This study aims to further the understanding of the effect of degradation of the different cartilage constituents on the mechanical loading environment in early stage OA. To this end, intact, collagen- and proteoglycan-depleted cartilage plugs were cyclically loaded in axial compression using an experimental model simulating in vivo cartilage-on-cartilage contact conditions in a micro-MRI scanner. Depletion of collagen and proteoglycans was achieved through enzymatic degradation with collagenase and chondroitinase ABC, respectively. Using a displacement-encoded imaging sequence (DENSE), strains were computed and compared in intact and degraded samples. The results revealed that, while degradation with one or the other enzyme had little effect on the contact strains, degradation with a combination of both enzymes caused an increase in the means and variance of the transverse, axial and shear strains, particularly in the superficial zone of the cartilage. This effect indicates that the balance between cartilage matrix constituents plays an essential role in maintaining the mechanical properties of the tissue, and a disturbance in this balance leads to a decrease of the load bearing capacity associated with degenerative joint diseases such as OA. Copyright © 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.