Background: As a relatively non-regenerative tissue, articular cartilage has been targeted for cryopreservation as a method of mitigating a lack of donor tissue availability for transplant surgeries. In addition, subzero storage of articular cartilage has long been used in biomedical studies using various storage temperatures. The current investigation studies the potential for freeze-thaw to affect the mechanical properties of articular cartilage through direct comparison of various subzero storage temperatures.
Methods: Both subzero storage temperature as well as freezing rate were compared using control samples (4°C) and samples stored at either -20°C or -80°C as well as samples first snap frozen in liquid nitrogen (-196°C) prior to storage at -80°C. All samples were thawed at 37.5°C to testing temperature (22°C). Complex stiffness and hysteresis characterized load resistance and damping properties using a non-destructive, low force magnitude, dynamic indentation protocol spanning a broad loading rate range to identify the dynamic viscoelastic properties of cartilage.
Results: Stiffness levels remained unchanged with exposure to the various subzero temperatures. Hysteresis increased in samples snap frozen at -196°C and stored at -80°C, though remained unchanged with exposure to the other storage temperatures.
Conclusions: Mechanical changes shown are likely due to ice lens creation, where frost heave effects may have caused collagen damage. That storage to -20°C and -80°C did not alter the mechanical properties of articular cartilage shows that when combined with a rapid thawing protocol to 37.5°C, the tissue may successfully be stored at subzero temperatures.