Microstructural Modeling of Collagen Network Mechanics and Interactions with the Proteoglycan Gel in Articular Cartilage

  • T. M. QuinnEmail author
  • V. Morel
Original Paper


Cartilage matrix mechanical function is largely determined by interactions between the collagen fibrillar network and the proteoglycan gel. Although the molecular physics of these matrix constituents have been characterized and modern imaging methods are capable of localized measurement of molecular densities and orientation distributions, theoretical tools for using this information for prediction of cartilage mechanical behavior are lacking. We introduce a means to model collagen network contributions to cartilage mechanics based upon accessible microstructural information (fibril density and orientation distributions) and which self-consistently follows changes in microstructural geometry with matrix deformations. The interplay between the molecular physics of the collagen network and the proteoglycan gel is scaled up to determine matrix material properties, with features such as collagen fibril pre-stress in free-swelling cartilage emerging naturally and without introduction of ad hoc parameters. Methods are developed for theoretical treatment of the collagen network as a continuum-like distribution of fibrils, such that mechanical analysis of the network may be simplified by consideration of the spherical harmonic components of functions of the fibril orientation, strain, and stress distributions. Expressions for the collagen network contributions to matrix stress and stiffness tensors are derived, illustrating that only spherical harmonic components of orders 0 and 2 contribute to the stress, while orders 0, 2, and 4 contribute to the stiffness. Depth- and compression-dependent equilibrium mechanical properties of cartilage matrix are modeled, and advantages of the approach are illustrated by exploration of orientation and strain distributions of collagen fibrils in compressed cartilage. Results highlight collagen-proteoglycan interactions, especially for very small physiological strains where experimental data are relatively sparse. These methods for determining matrix mechanical properties from measurable quantities at the microscale (composition, structure, and molecular physics) may be useful for investigating cartilage structure-function relationships relevant to load-bearing, injury, and repair.


Articular Cartilage Collagen Network Tissue Zone Spherical Harmonic Decomposition Cartilage Mechanic 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cartilage Biomechanics GroupEcole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)LausanneSwitzerland

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