Biomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 153–162 | Cite as

Biomechanics of single chondrocytes under direct shear

  • Gidon Ofek
  • Enda P. Dowling
  • Robert M. Raphael
  • J. Patrick McGarry
  • Kyriacos A. Athanasiou
Original Paper


Articular chondrocytes experience a variety of mechanical stimuli during daily activity. One such stimulus, direct shear, is known to affect chondrocyte homeostasis and induce catabolic or anabolic pathways. Understanding how single chondrocytes respond biomechanically and morphologically to various levels of applied shear is an important first step toward elucidating tissue level responses and disease etiology. To this end, a novel videocapture method was developed in this study to examine the effect of direct shear on single chondrocytes, applied via the controlled lateral displacement of a shearing probe. Through this approach, precise force and deformation measurements could be obtained during the shear event, as well as clear pictures of the initial cell-to-probe contact configuration. To further study the non-uniform shear characteristics of single chondrocytes, the probe was positioned in three different placement ranges along the cell height. It was observed that the apparent shear modulus of single chondrocytes decreased as the probe transitioned from being close to the cell base (4.1 ± 1.3 kPa), to the middle of the cell (2.6 ± 1.1 kPa), and then near its top (1.7 ± 0.8 kPa). In addition, cells experienced the greatest peak forward displacement (~30% of their initial diameter) when the probe was placed low, near the base. Forward cell movement during shear, regardless of its magnitude, continued until it reached a plateau at ~35% shear strain for all probe positions, suggesting that focal adhesions become activated at this shear level to firmly adhere the cell to its substrate. Based on intracellular staining, the observed height-specific variation in cell shear stiffness and plateau in forward cell movement appeared to be due to a rearrangement of focal adhesions and actin at higher shear strains. Understanding the fundamental mechanisms at play during shear of single cells will help elucidate potential treatments for chondrocyte pathology and loading regimens related to cartilage health and disease.


Cell mechanics Actin Focal adhesions Articular cartilage 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gidon Ofek
    • 1
  • Enda P. Dowling
    • 2
  • Robert M. Raphael
    • 1
  • J. Patrick McGarry
    • 2
  • Kyriacos A. Athanasiou
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BioengineeringRice UniversityHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Mechanical and Biomedical EngineeringNational University of IrelandGalwayIreland

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