Open Access Research article

An ultrasound study of altered hydration behaviour of proteoglycan-degraded articular cartilage

Qing Wang1*, Yi-Yi Yang1, Hai-Jun Niu2, Wen-Jing Zhang1, Qian-Jin Feng1 and Wu-Fan Chen1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Medical Information, School of Biomedical Engineering, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou 510515, China

2 Key Laboratory of the Ministry of Education for Biomechanics and Mechanobiology, School of Biological Science and Medical Engineering, Beihang University, Beijing 100191, China

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013, 14:289  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-289

Published: 11 October 2013



Articular cartilage is a solid-fluid biphasic material covering the bony ends of articulating joints. Hydration of articular cartilage is important to joint lubrication and weight-wearing. The aims of this study are to measure the altered hydration behaviour of the proteoglycan-degraded articular cartilage using high-frequency ultrasound and then to investigate the effect of proteoglycan (PG) degradation on cartilage hydration.


Twelve porcine patellae with smooth cartilage surface were prepared and evenly divided into two groups: normal group without any enzyme treatment and trypsin group treated with 0.25% trypsin solution for 4 h to digest PG in the tissue. After 40-minute exposure to air at room temperature, the specimens were immerged into the physiological saline solution. The dehydration induced hydration behaviour of the specimen was monitored by the high-frequency (25 MHz) ultrasound pulser/receiver (P/R) system. Dynamic strain and equilibrium strain were extracted to quantitatively evaluate the hydration behaviour of the dehydrated cartilage tissues.


The hydration progress of the dehydrated cartilage tissue was observed in M-mode ultrasound image indicating that the hydration behaviour of the PG-degraded specimens decreased. The percentage value of the equilibrium strain (1.84 ± 0.21%) of the PG-degraded cartilage significantly (p < 0.01) decreased in comparison with healthy cartilage (3.46 ± 0.49%). The histological sections demonstrated that almost PG content in the entire cartilage layer was digested by trypsin.


Using high-frequency ultrasound, this study found a reduction in the hydration behaviour of the PG-degraded cartilage. The results indicated that the degradation of PG decreased the hydration capability of the dehydrated tissue. This study may provide useful information for further study on changes in the biomechanical property of articular cartilage in osteoarthritis.

Hydration; Proteoglycans; Articular cartilage; Ultrasound; Osteoarthritis