Molecular transport in avascular collagenous tissues such as articular cartilage occurs primarily via diffusion. The presence of ordered structures in the extracellular matrix may influence the local transport of macromolecules, leading to anisotropic diffusion depending on the relative size of the molecule and that of extracellular matrix structures. Here we present what we believe is a novel photobleaching technique for measuring the anisotropic diffusivity of macromolecules in collagenous tissues. We hypothesized that macromolecular diffusion is anisotropic in collagenous tissues, depending on molecular size and the local organization of the collagen structure. A theoretical model and experimental protocol for fluorescence imaging of continuous point photobleaching was developed to measure diffusional anisotropy. Significant anisotropy was observed in highly ordered collagenous tissues such as ligament, with diffusivity ratios >2 along the fiber direction compared to the perpendicular direction. In less-ordered tissues such as articular cartilage, diffusional anisotropy was dependent on site in the tissue and size of the diffusing molecule. Anisotropic diffusion was also dependent on the size of the diffusing molecule, with greatest anisotropy observed for larger molecules. These findings suggest that diffusional transport of macromolecules is anisotropic in collagenous tissues, with higher rates of diffusion along primary orientation of collagen fibers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-316
Number of pages6
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2006


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