Dynamic viscoelastic characterisation of human osteochondral tissue: understanding the effect of the cartilage-bone interface

Sophie E. Mountcastle, Piers Allen, Ben O.L. Mellors, Bernard M. Lawless, Megan E. Cooke, Carolina E. Lavecchia, Natasha L.A. Fell, Daniel M. Espino, Simon W. Jones, Sophie C. Cox*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: Despite it being known that subchondral bone affects the viscoelasticity of cartilage, there has been little research into the mechanical properties of osteochondral tissue as a whole system. This study aims to unearth new knowledge concerning the dynamic behaviour of human subchondral bone and how energy is transferred through the cartilage-bone interface. 

Methods: Dynamic mechanical analysis was used to determine the frequency-dependent (1-90 Hz) viscoelastic properties of the osteochondral unit (cartilage-bone system) as well as isolated cartilage and bone specimens extracted from human femoral heads obtained from patients undergoing total hip replacement surgery, with a mean age of 78 years (N = 5, n = 22). Bone mineral density (BMD) was also determined for samples using micro-computed tomography as a marker of tissue health. 

Results: Cartilage storage and loss moduli along with bone storage modulus were found to increase logarithmically (p < 0.05) with frequency. The mean cartilage storage modulus was 34.4 ± 3.35 MPa and loss modulus was 6.17 ± 0.48 MPa (mean ± standard deviation). In contrast, bone loss modulus decreased logarithmically between 1 and 90 Hz (p < 0.05). The storage stiffness of the cartilage-bone-core was found to be frequency-dependent with a mean value of 1016 ± 54.0 N.mm- 1, while the loss stiffness was determined to be frequency-independent at 78.84 ± 2.48 N.mm- 1. Notably, a statistically significant (p < 0.05) linear correlation was found between the total energy dissipated from the isolated cartilage specimens, and the BMD of the isolated bone specimens at all frequencies except at 90 Hz (p = 0.09). 

Conclusions: The viscoelastic properties of the cartilage-bone core were significantly different to the tissues in isolation (p < 0.05). Results from this study demonstrate that the functionality of these tissues arises because they operate as a unit. This is evidenced through the link between cartilage energy dissipated and bone BMD. The results may provide insights into the functionality of the osteochondral unit, which may offer further understanding of disease progression, such as osteoarthritis (OA). Furthermore, the results emphasise the importance of studying human tissue, as bovine models do not always display the same trends.

Original languageEnglish
Article number575
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2019


  • articular cartilage
  • dynamic mechanical analysis
  • osteoarthritis
  • subchondral bone
  • viscoelasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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