Introduction: Chondrocytes in articular cartilage utilize mechanical signals to regulate their metabolic activity. A fundamental step in determining the role of various biophysical factors in this process is to characterize the local mechanical environment of the chondrocyte under physiological loading. Methods: A combined experimental and theoretical approach was used to quantify the in-situ mechanical environment of the chondrocyte. The mechanical properties of enzymatically-isolated chondrocytes and their pericellular matrix (PCM) were determined using micropipette aspiration. The values were used in a finite element model of the chondron (the chondrocyte and its PCM) within articular cartilage to predict the stress-strain and fluid flow microenvironment of the cell. The theoretical predictions were validated using three-dimensional confocal microscopy of chondrocyte deformation in situ. Results: Chondrocytes were found to behave as a viscoelastic solid material with a Young's modulus of approximately 0.6 kPa. The elastic modulus of the PCM was significantly higher than that of the chondrocyte, but several orders of magnitude lower than that of the extracellular matrix. Theoretical modeling of cell-matrix interactions suggests the mechanical environment of the chondrocyte is highly non-uniform and is dependent on the viscoelastic properties of the PCM. Excellent agreement was observed between the theoretical predictions and the direct measurements of chondrocyte deformation, but only if the model incorporated the PCM. Conclusions: These findings imply that the PCM plays a functional biomechanical role in articular cartilage, and alterations in PCM properties with aging or disease will significantly affect the biophysical environment of the chondrocyte.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-70
Number of pages12
JournalOsteoarthritis and Cartilage
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1999


  • Cartilage mechanics
  • Confocal microscopy
  • Mechanotransduction
  • Micropipette aspiration
  • Pericellular matrix
  • Type VI collagen


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