During skeletal development, growth, and maturation, gradual changes in the material properties and physical dimensions of cartilage occur under the influence of mechanical loading. The objective of the current study was to compare glycosaminoglycan biosynthesis and cell proliferation in fetal, calf, and adult bovine cartilage explants, isolated from defined depths from the articular surface, in response to controlled compressive loads. Mechanical testing confirmed that for all cartilage samples subjected to load, there was a marked time-averaged (static) compression, whereas the addition of dynamic load at a frequency of 0.01 Hz induced dynamic strain with amplitude and phase shift characteristics typical of stimuli that previously were found to be associated with stimulation of glycosaminoglycan synthesis. In metabolic studies, the application of static loading (84 kPa) for 24 hours inhibited glycosaminoglycan and deoxyribonucleic acid synthesis in all cultured cartilage samples. The superposition of dynamic loading (200 kPa, 0.01 Hz) induced a 20% stimulation of glycosaminoglycan biosynthesis in calf cartilage from the middle-deep zones over statically-loaded samples and an additional approximate 50% suppression of deoxyribonucleic acid synthesis in fetal and calf cartilage from the articular surface. These results indicate that synthesis of glycosaminoglycan and deoxyribonucleic acid, two distinct indices of cartilage growth, are regulated independently by mechanical loading and that cartilage responds differently to static and dynamic loading at different stages of maturation.

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