The pericellular matrix (PCM) is a narrow tissue region surrounding chondrocytes in articular cartilage, which together with the enclosed cell(s) has been termed the "chondron." While the function of this region is not fully understood, it is hypothesized to have important biological and biomechanical functions. In this article, we review a number of studies that have investigated the structure, composition, mechanical properties, and biomechanical role of the chondrocyte PCM. This region has been shown to be rich in proteoglycans (e.g., aggrecan, hyaluronan, and decorin), collagen (types II, VI, and IX), and fibronectin, but is defined primarily by the presence of type VI collagen as compared to the extracellular matrix (ECM). Direct measures of PCM properties via micropipette aspiration of isolated chondrons have shown that the PCM has distinct mechanical properties as compared to the cell or ECM. A number of theoretical and experimental studies suggest that the PCM plays an important role in regulating the microenvironment of the chondrocyte. Parametric studies of cell-matrix interactions suggest that the presence of the PCM significantly affects the micromechanical environment of the chondrocyte in a zone-dependent manner. These findings provide support for a potential biomechanical function of the chondrocyte PCM, and furthermore, suggest that changes in the PCM and ECM properties that occur with osteoarthritis may significantly alter the stress-strain and fluid environments of the chondrocytes. An improved understanding of the structure and function of the PCM may provide new insights into the mechanisms that regulate chondrocyte physiology in health and disease.
- Articular cartilage
- Collagen VI