Cell and Tissue Research

, Volume 370, Issue 1, pp 53–70 | Cite as

Meniscus, articular cartilage and nucleus pulposus: a comparative review of cartilage-like tissues in anatomy, development and function

  • Song Chen
  • Peiliang Fu
  • Haishan Wu
  • Ming PeiEmail author


The degradation of cartilage in the human body is impacted by aging, disease, genetic predisposition and continued insults resulting from daily activity. The burden of cartilage defects (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, intervertebral disc damage, knee replacement surgeries, etc.) is daunting in light of substantial economic and social stresses. This review strives to broaden the scope of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering approaches used for cartilage repair by comparing and contrasting the anatomical and functional nature of the meniscus, articular cartilage (AC) and nucleus pulposus (NP). Many review papers have provided detailed evaluations of these cartilages and cartilage-like tissues individually but none have comprehensively examined the parallels and inconsistencies in signaling, genetic expression and extracellular matrix composition between tissues. For the first time, this review outlines the importance of understanding these three tissues as unique entities, providing a comparative analysis of anatomy, ultrastructure, biochemistry and function for each tissue. This novel approach highlights the similarities and differences between tissues, progressing research toward an understanding of what defines each tissue as distinctive. The goal of this paper is to provide researchers with the fundamental knowledge to correctly engineer the meniscus, AC and NP without inadvertently developing the wrong tissue function or biochemistry.


Articular cartilage Meniscus Nucleus pulposus Development Tissue engineering 



We thank Suzanne Danley for editing the manuscript and Quincy Hathaway for valuable comments and revision. This project was partially supported by Research Grants from the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (R03AR062763-01A1, R01AR067747-01A1) (to M.P.), Natural Science Foundation of Shanghai City, China (15ZR1414000, to P.F.) and Natural Science Foundation of China (81601889, to S.C.).

Compliance with ethical standards

Author disclosure statement

No competing financial interests exist.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stem Cell and Tissue Engineering Laboratory, Department of Orthopaedics and Division of Exercise PhysiologyWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA
  2. 2.Department of Orthopaedics, Changzheng HospitalSecond Military Medical UniversityShanghaiPeople’s Republic of China

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