The finding of other investigators that increased water content is often associated with signs of a torn collagen network in human osteoarthritic (OA) cartilage led to this study. In the Pond-Nuki model of post-traumatic OA experimental but not control femoral condylar cartilage showed evidence of breakdown and stiffening of collagen network as assessed by measurement of swelling properties and indentation behaviour respectively. These changes in the unstable knees occurred despite lack of erosion of that surface cartilage ascertained from carbon black mapping and history. The stiffening rather than softening change was therefore attributed to cartilage oedema of the middle and deep certilagenous zones, wherein breakdown of collagen network has been postulated to occur. Because of insignificant reduction of total hexuronate in these cartilages, a proteoglycan (PG) profile of sedimentation coefficients for aggregate (PGA) and subunit species (PGS) was analysed to see if collagen network changes in the dog preceded PG alteration. Despite minimal histological changes our results confirmed previous findings in the tibial plateau cartilage in this model, that PGA was reduced in size and PGS increased in amount. Slight enzymatic breakdown of PGs, or altered synthesis due to cellular responses to either the injury directly or to synovial inflammation, seems necessary to explain such changes in the absence of cartilage erosion.
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