Since Galileo’s days the effect of size on the anatomical characteristics of the structural elements of the body has been a subject of interest. However, the effects of scaling at tissue level have received little interest and virtually no data exist on the subject with respect to the osteochondral unit in the joint, despite this being one of the most lesion-prone and clinically relevant parts of the musculoskeletal system.
Imaging techniques, including Fourier transform infrared imaging, polarized light microscopy and micro computed tomography, were combined to study the response to increasing body mass of the osteochondral unit. We analyzed the effect of scaling on structural characteristics of articular cartilage, subchondral plate and the supporting trabecular bone, across a wide range of mammals at microscopic level.
We demonstrated that, while total cartilage thickness scales to body mass in a negative allometric fashion, thickness of different cartilage layers did not. Cartilage tissue layers were found to adapt to increasing loads principally in the deep zone with the superficial layers becoming relatively thinner. Subchondral plate thickness was found to have no correlation to body mass, nor did bone volume fraction. The underlying trabecular bone was found to have thicker trabeculae (r=0.75, p<0.001), as expected since this structure carries most loads and plays a role in force mitigation.
The results of this study suggest that the osteochondral tissue structure has remained remarkably preserved across mammalian species during evolution, and that in particular, the trabecular bone carries the adaptation to the increasing body mass.
Full Access Link: Bone