The deformation behavior and viscoelastic properties of chondrocytes in articular cartilage.
Chondrocytes in articular cartilage utilize mechanical signals in conjunction with other environmental factors to regulate their metabolic activity. However, the sequence of biomechanical and biochemical events involved in the process of mechanical signal transduction has not been fully deciphered. A fundamental step in determining the role of various factors in regulating chondrocyte activity is to characterize accurately the biophysical environment within the tissue under physiological conditions of mechanical loading. Microscopic imaging studies have revealed that chondrocytes as well as their nuclei undergo shape and volume changes in a coordinated manner with deformation of the tissue matrix. Through micromechanical experiments, it has been shown that the chondrocyte behaves as a viscoelastic solid material with a mechanical stiffness that is several orders of magnitude lower than that of the cartilage extracellular matrix. These properties seem to be due to the structure of the chondrocyte cytoskeleton, and in part, the viscoelastic properties of the cell nucleus. The mechanical properties of the pericellular matrix that immediately surrounds the chondrocyte significantly differ from those of the chondrocyte and the extracellular matrix, suggesting that the pericellular matrix plays an important role in defining the mechanical environment of the chondrocyte. These experimentally measured values for chondrocyte and cartilage mechanical properties have been used in combination with theoretical constitutive modeling of the chondrocyte within articular cartilage to predict the non-uniform and time-varying stress-strain and fluid flow environment of the cell. The ultimate goal of these studies has been to elucidate the sequence of biomechanical and biochemical events through which mechanical stress influences chondrocyte activity in both health and in disease.
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