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How movement lubricates bone joints

Taking a cue from machines that gently flex patients knees to help them recover faster from joint surgery, bioengineering researchers at UC San Diego have shown that sliding forces applied to cartilage surfaces prompt cells in that tissue to produce molecules that lubricate and protect joints.

The results reported in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage are important in the ongoing efforts of the group led by Robert Sah, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) professor at UCSDs Jacobs School of Engineering, to grow cartilage in the laboratory that can be used to replace patients injured or diseased joint surfaces.

We have shown that shear forces on cartilage prompt chondrocyte cells in it to produce proteoglycan 4, said Sah. This is an important step toward our goal of eventually growing joint tissue for transplantation.

Proteoglycan, a name that reflects its protein and polysaccharide components, is a basic building block of connective tissue throughout the body. The chondrocyte cells of cartilage make several forms of proteoglycans, including several that build up in cartilage and contribute to its stiffness. However, proteoglycan-4 is primarily secreted into the joint fluid where it coats and lubricates cartilage surfaces.

Unfortunately, the smooth surface of the articular cartilage at the ends of bones located at joints often deteriorates with aging, becoming increasingly roughened and eroded. Those joints become painful and progress to osteoarthritis. Surgeons can replace damaged and diseased joints with artificial joints, but they would like to be able to simply resurface patients existing joints with cartilage.

In a series of experiments, Sahs team attached bovine stifle joints, which are similar to human knee joints, to a bio-reactor that provided continuous irrigation with sterile nutritional fluids under normal physiological conditions. Immobile joints were compared to joints that were flexed 24 hours in
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Contact: Rex Graham
ragraham@ucsd.edu
858-822-3075
University of California - San Diego
5-Dec-2006


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