• articular disc;
  • compressive force;
  • desmin;
  • intermediate filament;
  • temporomandibular joint


The articular disc in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that serves in load relief and stabilizing in jaw movements is a dense collagenous tissue consisting of extracellular matrices and disc cells. The various morphological configurations of the disc cells have given us diverse names, such as fibroblasts, chondrocyte-like cells and fibrochondrocytes; however, the characteristics of these cells have remained to be elucidated in detail. The disc cells have been reported to exhibit heterogeneous immunoreaction patterns for intermediate filaments including glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), nestin and vimentin in the adult rat TMJ. Because these intermediate filaments accumulate in the disc cells as tooth eruption proceeds during postnatal development, it might be surmised that the expression of these intermediate filaments in the disc cells closely relates to mechanical stress. The present study was therefore undertaken to examine the effect of a continuous compressive force on the immunoexpression of these intermediate filaments and an additional intermediate filament – muscle-specific desmin – in the disc cells of the TMJ disc using a rat experimental model. The rats wore an appliance that exerts a continuous compressive load on the TMJ. The experimental period with the appliance was 5 days as determined by previous studies, after which some experimental animals were allowed to survive another 5 days after removal of the appliance. Histological observations demonstrated that the compressive force provoked a remarkable acellular region and a decrease in the thickness of the condylar cartilage of the mandible, and a sparse collagen fiber distribution in the articular disc. The articular disc showed a significant increase in the number of desmin-positive cells as compared with the controls. In contrast, immunopositive cells for GFAP, nestin and vimentin remained unchanged in number as well as intensity. At 5 days after removal of the appliance, both the disc and cartilage exhibited immunohistological and histological features in a recovery process. These findings indicate that the mature articular cells are capable of producing desmin instead of the other intermediate filaments against mechanical stress. The desmin-positive disc cells lacked α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) in this study, even though desmin usually co-exists with α-SMA in the vascular smooth muscle cells or pericytes. Because the precursor of a pericyte has such an immunoexpression pattern during angiogenesis, there is a further possibility that the formation of new vessels commenced in response to the extraordinary compressive force.