Thin (100 micron) perpendicular slices of canine femoral condylar cartilage were placed horizontally on the stage of a Nachet microscope and viewed by transmitted light in the differential interference contrast mode. Each slice was held on the microscope stage by a loading rig and tested mechanically in compression. Measured loads to a maximum of approximately 2-3 MN/m2 were applied to the end of the slice corresponding to the articular surface. Photographs were taken of the cartilage before and during loading, and the distance by which selected chondrocytes were displaced was used as an index of mechanical strain, i.e., of change in length/original length. Maximum strains were observed in the superficial cartilage zone. Minimum strains were recorded in the mid-zone, at a depth corresponding to approximately 75% of the total cartilage thickness. The relative concentrations of cartilage collagen (COL) and proteoglycan (PG) were assessed by the light and electron microscopic histochemical study of cartilage sections taken from contiguous blocks. Superficial cartilage, which deformed most, had high concentrations of oriented COL fibres, low concentrations of PG. Mid-zone cartilage, which deformed least, had lower concentrations of randomly arrayed COL fibres but relatively high concentrations of PG.
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