Direct osmotic pressure measurements in articular cartilage demonstrate nonideal and concentration-dependent phenomena

Brandon K. Zimmerman, Robert J. Nims, Alex Chen, Clark T. Hung, Gerard A. Ateshian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The osmotic pressure in articular cartilage serves an important mechanical function in healthy tissue. Its magnitude is thought to play a role in advancing osteoarthritis. The aims of this study were to: (1) isolate and quantify the magnitude of cartilage swelling pressure in situ; and (2) identify the effect of salt concentration on material parameters. Confined compression stress-relaxation testing was performed on 18 immature bovine and six mature human cartilage samples in solutions of varying osmolarities. Direct measurements of osmotic pressure revealed nonideal and concentration-dependent osmotic behavior, with magnitudes approximately 1/3 those predicted by ideal Donnan law. A modified Donnan constitutive behavior was able to capture the aggregate behavior of all samples with a single adjustable parameter. Results of curve-fitting transient stress-relaxation data with triphasic theory in FEBIO demonstrated concentrationdependent material properties. The aggregate modulus HA increased threefold as the external concentration decreased from hypertonic 2M to hypotonic 0.001M NaCl (bovine. HA = 0.420±0.109 MPa to 1.266±0.438 MPa; human. HA = 0.499±0.208 MPa to 1.597±0.455 MPa), within a triphasic theory inclusive of osmotic effects. This study provides a novel and simple analytical model for cartilage osmotic pressure which may be used in computational simulations, validated with direct in situ measurements. A key finding is the simultaneous existence of Donnan osmotic and Poisson-Boltzmann electrostatic interactions within cartilage.

Original languageEnglish
Article number041007
JournalJournal of Biomechanical Engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021


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