eCM (Eur Cell Mater / e Cells & Materials) Not-for-profit Open Access
Created by Scientists, for Scientists
 ISSN:1473-2262         NLM:100973416 (link)         DOI:10.22203/eCM

2015   Volume No 29 – pages 105-123

Title: Postnatal changes to the mechanical properties of articular cartilage are driven by the evolution of its collagen network

Author: AR Gannon, T Nagel, AP Bell, NC Avery, DJ Kelly

Address: Trinity Centre for Bioengineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Parsons Building, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland

E-mail: kellyd9 at

Key Words: Articular cartilage, collagen, Young’s modulus, digital image correlation, helium ion microscopy, maturation, structure-function relations.

Publication date: January 29th 2015

Abstract: While it is well established that the composition and organisation of articular cartilage dramatically change during skeletal maturation, relatively little is known about how this impacts the mechanical properties of the tissue. In this study, digital image correlation was first used to quantify spatial deformation within mechanically compressed skeletally immature (4 and 8 week old) and mature (1 and 3 year old) porcine articular cartilage. The compressive modulus of the immature tissue was relatively homogeneous, while the stiffness of mature articular cartilage dramatically increased with depth from the articular surface. Other, well documented, biomechanical characteristics of the tissue also emerged with skeletal maturity, such as strain-softening and a depth-dependent Poisson’s ratio. The most significant changes that occurred with age were in the deep zone of the tissue, where an order of magnitude increase in compressive modulus (from 0.97 MPa to 9.4 MPa for low applied strains) was observed from 4 weeks postnatal to skeletal maturity. These temporal increases in compressive stiffness occurred despite a decrease in tissue sulphated glycosaminoglycan content, but were accompanied by increases in tissue collagen content. Furthermore, helium ion microscopy revealed dramatic changes in collagen fibril alignment through the depth of the tissue with skeletal maturity, as well as a fivefold increase in fibril diameter with age. Finally, computational modelling was used to demonstrate how both collagen network reorganisation and collagen stiffening play a key role in determining the final compressive mechanical properties of the tissue. Together these findings provide a unique insight into evolving structure-function relations in articular cartilage.

Article download: Pages 105-123 (PDF file)
DOI: 10.22203/eCM.v029a09