The mechanical environment of the chondrocyte is an important factor that influences the maintenance of the articular cartilage extracellular matrix. Previous studies have utilized theoretical models of chondrocytes within articular cartilage to predict the stress–strain and fluid flow environments around the cell, but little is currently known regarding the cellular properties which are required for implementation of these models. The objectives of this study were to characterize the mechanical behavior of primary human chondrocytes and to determine the Young’s modulus of chondrocytes from non-osteoarthritic (‘normal’) and osteoarthritic cartilage. A second goal was to quantify changes in the volume of isolated chondrocytes in response to mechanical deformation. The micropipette aspiration technique was used to measure the deformation of a single chondrocyte into a glass micropipette in response to a prescribed pressure. The results of this study indicate that the human chondrocyte behaves as a viscoelastic solid. No differences were found between the Young’s moduli of normal (0.65±0.63 kPa, n=44) and osteoarthritic chondrocytes (0.67±0.86 kPa, n=69, p=0.93). A significant difference in cell volume was observed immediately and 600 s after complete aspiration of the cell into the pipette (p<0.001), and the magnitude of this volume change between normal (11±11%, n=40) and osteoarthritic (20±11%, n=41) chondroctyes was significantly different at both time points (p<0.002). This finding suggests that chondrocytes from osteoarthritic cartilage may have altered volume regulation capabilities in response to mechanical deformation. The mechanical and volumetric properties determined in this study will be of use in analytical and finite element models of chondrocyte-matrix interactions in order to better predict the mechanical environment of the cell in vivo.
Cell mechanics; Micropipette aspiration; Articular cartilage; Cell volume; Osteoarthritis; Young’s modulus