Author(s): Loparic M, Wirz D, Daniels AU, Raiteri R, Vanlandingham MR,
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Abstract As documented previously, articular cartilage exhibits a scale-dependent dynamic stiffness when probed by indentation-type atomic force microscopy (IT-AFM). In this study, a micrometer-size spherical tip revealed an unimodal stiffness distribution (which we refer to as microstiffness), whereas probing articular cartilage with a nanometer-size pyramidal tip resulted in a bimodal nanostiffness distribution. We concluded that indentation of the cartilage's soft proteoglycan (PG) gel gave rise to the lower nanostiffness peak, whereas deformation of its collagen fibrils yielded the higher nanostiffness peak. To test our hypothesis, we produced a gel-microfiber composite consisting of a chondroitin sulfate-containing agarose gel and a fibrillar poly(ethylene glycol)-terephthalate/poly(butylene)-terephthalate block copolymer. In striking analogy to articular cartilage, the microstiffness distribution of the synthetic composite was unimodal, whereas its nanostiffness exhibited a bimodal distribution. Also, similar to the case with cartilage, addition of the negatively charged chondroitin sulfate rendered the gel-microfiber composite's water content responsive to salt. When the ionic strength of the surrounding buffer solution increased from 0.15 to 2 M NaCl, the cartilage's microstiffness increased by 21\%, whereas that of the synthetic biomaterial went up by 31\%. When the nanostiffness was measured after the ionic strength was raised by the same amount, the cartilage's lower peak increased by 28\%, whereas that of the synthetic biomaterial went up by 34\%. Of interest, the higher peak values remained unchanged for both materials. Taken together, these results demonstrate that the nanoscale lower peak is a measure of the soft PG gel, and the nanoscale higher peak measures collagen fibril stiffness. In contrast, the micrometer-scale measurements fail to resolve separate stiffness values for the PG and collagen fibril moieties. Therefore, we propose to use nanostiffness as a new biomarker to analyze structure-function relationships in normal, diseased, and engineered cartilage. Copyright (c) 2010 Biophysical Society. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
This article was published in Biophys J
and referenced in Journal of Physical Chemistry & Biophysics