OBJECTIVE: To investigate the effects of a one year programme of running training (up to 40 km/day for 15 weeks) on the spatial orientation pattern of collagen and glycosaminoglycans in articular cartilage in different parts of the knee (stifle) and shoulder joints of young beagle dogs. METHODS: Area specific measurements of the optical path difference (= retardation, gamma) and the cartilage zone thickness were performed using conventional procedures and a new computer based quantitative polarised light microscopy method. Transmission electron microscopy was used to determine the zonal volume density of collagen fibrils. The concentrations of collagen and hydroxypyridinium crosslinks were investigated biochemically. RESULTS: Running training decreased gamma by 24-34% (p < 0.05) in the superficial zone of the lateral femoral condyle articular cartilage and at the centre of the tibial condyles. Gamma of glycosaminoglycans decreased by 26% (p < 0.05) in the superficial zone of the lateral condyle of the femur, but at the same site the volume density of collagen fibrils was unchanged. Neither the collagen concentration nor the concentration of hydroxypyridinium crosslinks was altered as a result of running. In both control and runner dogs, the thickness and gamma values of the superficial zone were greater in the humerus and the femur than in the tibia. CONCLUSION: Endurance type running exercise in beagles caused a reduction in the superficial zone birefringence of the articular cartilage, which indicates either a disorganisation or a reorientation of the superficial zone collagen network. Articular cartilage showed marked variability of collagen network organisation over the different knee (stifle) joint articular surfaces.
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