Topographic features of nano-pores within the osteochondral interface and their effects on transport properties –a 3D imaging and modeling study

Behdad Pouran, Amir Raoof, D A Matthijs de Winter, Vahid Arbabi, Ronald L A W Bleys, Frederik J Beekman, Amir A Zadpoor, Jos Malda, Harrie Weinans

Published: 23 June 2021

Recent insights suggest that the osteochondral interface plays a central role in maintaining healthy articulating joints. Uncovering the underlying transport mechanisms is key to the understanding of the cross-talk between articular cartilage and subchondral bone. Here, we describe the mechanisms that facilitate transport at the osteochondral interface. Using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), we found a continuous transition of mineralization architecture from the non-calcified cartilage towards the calcified cartilage. This refurbishes the classical picture of the so-called tidemark; a well-defined discontinuity at the osteochondral interface. Using focused-ion-beam SEM (FIB-SEM) on one osteochondral plug derived from a human cadaveric knee, we elucidated that the pore structure gradually varies from the calcified cartilage towards the subchondral bone plate. We identified nano-pores with radius of 10.71 ± 6.45 nm in calcified cartilage to 39.1 ± 26.17 nm in the subchondral bone plate. The extracted pore sizes were used to construct 3D pore-scale numerical models to explore the effect of pore sizes and connectivity among different pores. Results indicated that connectivity of nano-pores in calcified cartilage is highly compromised compared to the subchondral bone plate. Flow simulations showed a permeability decrease by about 2000-fold and solute transport simulations using a tracer (iodixanol, 1.5 kDa with a free diffusivity of 2.5 × 10−10 m2/s) showed diffusivity decrease by a factor of 1.5. Taken together, architecture of the nano-pores and the complex mineralization pattern in the osteochondral interface considerably impacts the cross-talk between cartilage and bone.

Full Access Link: Journal of Biomechanics