alexa Scanning electron microscopy of "fibrillated" and "malacic" human articular cartilage: technical considerations.


Journal of Arthritis

Author(s): Clark JM

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Specimens of articular cartilage from human knees with gross evidence of malacia (dull appearance and/or softness) or fibrillation (exposed fibrous strands and/or staining with India ink) were prepared for scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and compared to cartilage from apparently intact regions. Vertical cryofractures were made through the center of each specimen, so the matrix collagen structure and its relationship to surface features could be examined. Soft, dull, malacic cartilage was characterized by the presence of numerous clefts among the collagen fibers within the most superficial region of the cartilage. In one form of this condition, these clefts did not extend through the articular surface. In a second form, usually observed where the tangential zone was normally thin or absent, the free ends of radial collagen fibers were exposed, but the deeper layers were intact. Two forms of fibrillation were also identified. The first is created by separation of the superficial lamellae which curl up from the tangential layer and form frondlike projections above the normal plane of the joint surface. In the second, deep radial fibers are exposed by vertical fissures. This second form is associated with advanced damage to the joint. The early stages of cartilage failure are characterized by debonding among the major collagen fiber tracts. This process may initiate in the deep tangential zone where the radial fibers cross into the surface. The patterns of the degenerative changes are dictated by the original architecture of the collagen matrix. The microscopic findings do not correlate adequately with conventional gross grading. SEM provides useful information about injured articular cartilage.

This article was published in Microsc Res Tech and referenced in Journal of Arthritis

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