The pericellular matrix (PCM) is a narrow region of tissue that completely surrounds chondrocytes in articular cartilage. Previous theoretical models of the "chondron" (the PCM with enclosed cells) suggest that the structure and properties of the PCM may significantly influence the mechanical environment of the chondrocyte. The objective of this study was to quantify changes in the three-dimensional (3D) morphology of the chondron in situ at different magnitudes of compression applied to the cartilage extracellular matrix. Fluorescence immunolabeling for type-VI collagen was used to identify the boundaries of the cell and PCM, and confocal microscopy was used to form 3D images of chondrons from superficial, middle, and deep zone cartilage in explants compressed to 0%, 10%, 30%, and 50% surface-to-surface strain. Lagrangian tissue strain, determined locally using texture correlation, was highly inhomogeneous and revealed depth-dependent compressive stiffness and Poisson's ratio of the extracellular matrix. Compression significantly decreased cell and chondron height and volume, depending on the zone and magnitude of compression. In the superficial zone, cellular-level strains were always lower than tissue-level strains. In the middle and deep zones, however, tissue strains below 25% were amplified at the cellular level, while tissue strains above 25% were decreased at the cellular level. These findings are consistent with previous theoretical models of the chondron, suggesting that the PCM can serve as either a protective layer for the chondrocyte or a transducer that amplifies strain, such that cellular-level strains are more homogenous throughout the tissue depth despite large inhomogeneities in local ECM strains.
- Articular cartilage
- Extracellular matrix
- Pericellular matrix
- Three-dimensional reconstruction
- Type-VI collagen