A model is presented that provides a resolution to a fundamental paradox in bone physiology, namely, that the strains applied to whole bone (i.e., tissue level strains) are much smaller (0.04–0.3 percent) than the strains (1–10 percent) that are necessary to cause bone signaling in deformed cell cultures (Rubin and Lanyon, J. Bone Joint Surg. 66A (1984) 397–410; Fritton et al., J. Biomech. 33 (2000) 317–325). The effect of fluid drag forces on the pericellular matrix (PM), its coupling to the intracellular actin cytoskeleton (IAC) and the strain amplification that results from this coupling are examined for the first time. The model leads to two predictions, which could fundamentally change existing views. First, for the loading range 1–20 MPa and frequency range 1–20 Hz, it is, indeed, possible to produce cellular level strains in bone that are up to 100 fold greater than normal tissue level strains (0.04–0.3 percent). Thus, the strain in the cell process membrane due to the loading can be of the same order as the in vitro strains measured in cell culture studies where intracellular biochemical responses are observed for cells on stretched elastic substrates. Second, it demonstrates that in any cellular system, where cells are subject to fluid flow and tethered to more rigid supporting structures, the tensile forces on the cell due to the drag forces on the tethering fibers may be many times greater than the fluid shear force on the cell membrane.
Keywords: Osteocyte process; Shear stress; Drag force; Actin filament bundle; Strain amplification