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Keywords:

  • articular cartilage;
  • chondrocyte;
  • plasma membrane;
  • integrins;
  • mechanosensitive ion channels;
  • cytoskeleton;
  • mechanoreceptor complex;
  • mechanical signal transduction;
  • chondroprotective signals;
  • apoptosis

Perception of mechanical signals and the biological responses to such stimuli are fundamental properties of load bearing articular cartilage in diarthrodial joints. Chondrocytes utilize mechanical signals to synthesize an extracellular matrix capable of withstanding high loads and shear stresses. Recent studies have shown that chondrocytes undergo changes in shape and volume in a coordinated manner with load induced deformation of the matrix. These matrix changes, together with alterations in hydrostatic pressure, ionic and osmotic composition, interstitial fluid and streaming potentials are, in turn, perceived by chondrocytes. Chondrocyte responses to these stimuli are specific and well coordinated to bring about changes in gene expression, protein synthesis, matrix composition and ultimately biomechanical competence. In this hypothesis paper we propose a chondrocyte mechanoreceptor model incorporating key extracellular matrix macromolecules, integrins, mechanosensitive ion channels, the cytoskeleton and subcellular signal transduction pathways that maintain the chondrocyte phenotype, prevent chondrocyte apoptosis and regulate chondrocyte-specific gene expression.