Chondrocyte cells respond mechanically to compressive loads



Many studies have illustrated the effect of mechanical loading on articular cartilage and the corresponding changes in chondrocyte metabolism, yet the mechanism through which the cells respond to loading still is unclear. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the change in shape of chondrocytes under a statically applied uniaxial compressive load. Isolated chondrocytes from rat chondrosarcoma were embedded in 2% agarose gel. Strains of 5, 10, and 15% were applied, and images of the cell were recorded from initial loading to equilibrium (15 minutes). A finite-element model was used to model the experimental setup and to estimate the mechanical properties of the chondrocyte at equilibrium. The transient behavior of the composite in the experiment was analyzed with use of a standard linear viscoelastic model. We found that all cells decreased in cross-sectional area under each of the applied compressive strains. In the finite-element model, the elasticity of the chondrocyte was similar to that of the surrounding agarose gel (4.0 kPa) and had a Poisson's ratio of 0.4. Viscoelastic analysis showed that the chondrocytes contributed a significant viscoelastic component to the behavior of the composite in comparison with the agarose gel alone. If a decrease in cell volume proportional to the decrease in cross-sectional area is assumed, the decrease observed was greater than would be predicted by a passive cellular response due to an equivalent osmotic pressure. This indicates that the chondrocyte may be altering its intracellular composition by cellular processes in response to mechanical loading.