Anisotropic dynamic changes in the pore network structure, fluid diffusion and fluid flow in articular cartilage under compression
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A compression cell designed to fit inside an NMR spectrometer was used to investigate the in situ mechanical strain response, structural changes to the internal pore structure, and the diffusion and flow of interstitial water in full-thickness cartilage samples as it was deforming dynamically under a constant compressive load (pressure). We distinguish between the hydrostatic pressure acting on the interstitial fluid and the pore pressure acting on the cartilage fibril network. Our results show that properties related to the pore matrix microstructure such as diffusion and hydraulic conductivity are strongly influenced by the hydrostatic pressure in the interstitial fluid of the dynamically deforming cartilage which differ significantly from the properties measured under static i.e. equilibrium loading conditions (when the hydrostatic pressure has relaxed back to zero). The magnitude of the hydrostatic fluid pressure also appears to affect the way cartilage's pore matrix changes during deformation with implications for the diffusion and flow-driven fluid transport through the deforming pore matrix. We also show strong evidence for a highly anisotropic pore structure and deformational dynamics that allows cartilage to deform without significantly altering the axial porosity of the matrix even at very large strains. The insensitivity of the axial porosity to compressive strain may be playing a critical function in directing the flow of pressurized interstitial fluid in the compressed cartilage to the surface, to support the load, and provide a protective interfacial fluid film that 'weeps' out from the deforming tissue and thereby enhances the (elasto)hydrodynamic efficacy of sliding joints. Our results appear to show a close synergy between the structure of cartilage and both the hydrodynamic and boundary lubrication mechanisms. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.