To study mechanical control of tissue differentiation, we designed a new version of the previously described bone conduction chamber. The bone conduction chamber consists of a cylindrical titanium chamber for implantation in the rat tibia. It has tissue ingrowth openings at one end, located subcortically, and the other end protrudes into the subcutis. The newly developed load chamber has a mobile piston so that an external compressive load can be transferred to the tissue within the chamber. Sprague-Dawley rats had a regular bone conduction chamber implanted in one tibia and a load chamber implanted in the other. Mesenchymal tissue was allowed to grow into the chamber for 3 weeks before the mechanical loading was started. Thereafter, twice a day, 20 cycles of compressive load were applied with a frequency of 0.17 Hz to the load chamber. This was estimated to produce a compressive hydrostatic stress of 2 MPa. The chambers, harvested after 7 weeks of loading, all contained newly formed bone. The bone ingrowth distance into the chamber was decreased in the loaded specimens compared with the contralateral unloaded controls (p = 0.01). Instead, cartilage was found in the loaded chambers next to the piston. Beneath the cartilage was a dense bone plate under which a marrow cavity had formed. No cartilage was found in the unloaded controls, but the architecture of the bone and marrow cavity was similar to that of the loaded specimens. We conclude that this model allows load to be transmitted onto the ingrowing tissue and that the load parameters used cause this tissue to differentiate into cartilage close to the piston.
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