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Articular Cartilage Friction, Strain, and Viability Under Physiological to Pathological Benchtop Sliding Conditions


In vivo, articular cartilage is exceptionally resistant to wear, damage, and dysfunction. However, replicating cartilage’s phenomenal in vivo tribomechanics (i.e., high fluid load support, low frictions and strains) and mechanobiology on the benchtop has been difficult, because classical testing approaches tend to minimize hydrodynamic contributors to tissue function. Our convergent stationary contact area (cSCA) configuration retains the ability for hydrodynamically-mediated processes to contribute to interstitial hydration recovery and tribomechanical function via ‘tribological rehydration’. Using the cSCA, we investigated how in situ chondrocyte survival is impacted by the presence of tribological rehydration during the reciprocal sliding of a glass counterface against a compressively loaded equine cSCA cartilage explant. When tribological rehydration was compromised during testing, by slow-speed sliding, ‘pathophysiological’ tribomechanical environments and high surface cell death were observed. When tribological rehydration was preserved, by high-speed sliding, ‘semi-physiological’ sliding environments and suppressed cell death were realized. Inclusion of synovial fluid during testing fostered ‘truly physiological’ sliding outcomes consistent with the in vivo environment but had limited influence on cell death compared to high-speed sliding in PBS. Subsequently, path analysis identified friction as a primary driver of cell death, with strain an indirect driver, supporting the contention that articulation mediated rehydration can benefit both the biomechanical properties and biological homeostasis of cartilage.

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Figure 8



Fluid load support


Extracellular matrix


Matrix metalloproteinase




Stationary contact area


Migrating contact area


Convergent stationary contact area


Phosphate-buffered saline


Chondrogenic culture media


Synovial fluid



ε :


ε SoS :

Start-of-sliding strain

ε EoS :

End-of-sliding strain

ε Rec :

Recovered strain

ε TA :

Time-averaged strain

δ :

Compression (μm)

k δ,Stat :

Static compression rate (min−1)

k δ,Slid :

Sliding compression rate (min−1)

μ :

Friction coefficient

μ SoS :

Start-of-sliding friction coefficient

μ EoS :

End-of-sliding friction coefficient

μ TA :

Time-averaged friction coefficient

t Semi :

Time slid above semi-physiological friction threshold (min)

t Patho :

Time slid above pathophysiological friction threshold (min)

τ μ,Slid :

Characteristic friction recovery time constant (min)

r :

Pearson’s correlation coefficient


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This material was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Biomaterials and Mechanobiology program [1635536] and the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program [1247394]. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

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Farnham, M.S., Ortved, K.F., Burris, D.L. et al. Articular Cartilage Friction, Strain, and Viability Under Physiological to Pathological Benchtop Sliding Conditions. Cel. Mol. Bioeng. 14, 349–363 (2021).

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  • Tribological rehydration
  • Fluid load support
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cartilage tribology
  • Convergent stationary contact area
  • Path analysis