Mechanobiology of the meniscus.
The meniscus plays a critical biomechanical role in the knee, providing load support, joint stability, and congruity. Importantly, growing evidence indicates that the mechanobiologic response of meniscal cells plays a critical role in the physiologic, pathologic, and repair responses of the meniscus. Here we review experimental and theoretical studies that have begun to directly measure the biomechanical effects of joint loading on the meniscus under physiologic and pathologic conditions, showing that the menisci are exposed to high contact stresses, resulting in a complex and nonuniform stress-strain environment within the tissue. By combining microscale measurements of the mechanical properties of meniscal cells and their pericellular and extracellular matrix regions, theoretical and experimental models indicate that the cells in the meniscus are exposed to a complex and inhomogeneous environment of stress, strain, fluid pressure, fluid flow, and a variety of physicochemical factors. Studies across a range of culture systems from isolated cells to tissues have revealed that the biological response of meniscal cells is directly influenced by physical factors, such as tension, compression, and hydrostatic pressure. In addition, these studies have provided new insights into the mechanotransduction mechanisms by which physical signals are converted into metabolic or pro/anti-inflammatory responses. Taken together, these in vivo and in vitro studies show that mechanical factors play an important role in the health, degeneration, and regeneration of the meniscus. A more thorough understanding of the mechanobiologic responses of the meniscus will hopefully lead to therapeutic approaches to prevent degeneration and enhance repair of the meniscus.
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