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Vol. 37 No. 2, March/April 2000


Differential effects of embryonic immobilization on the development of fibrocartilaginous skeletal elements

Borjana Mikic, PhD; Tiffany L. Johnson, BS; Abhinav B. Chhabra, MD; Benjamin J. Schalet, MS; Marcy Wong, PhD;
Ernst B. Hunziker, MD

Departments of Orthopaedic Surgery and Biomedical Engineering, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22908; M.E. Mueller Institute for Biomechanics, Bern, Switzerland.

Abstract — The importance of mechanical influences during skeletal development has been well established in both experimental studies and computer models. Under conditions of embryonic immobilization, it has been observed that the early stages of joint formation proceed normally (up to and including interzone formation), but the later stages of joint cavitation and maintenance are impaired, resulting in fusion of the cartilaginous elements across the presumptive joint line. Two structures in particular are noticeably absent from late-stage synovial joints in immobilized chick embryos: the menisci of the tibiofemoral joint and the plantar tarsal sesamoid of the tibiotarsal joint. Both of these fibrocartilaginous structures are known to serve mechanical functions in postnatal animals, helping to distribute loads within the joint and, in the case of sesamoid structures, to provide a mechanical advantage to muscles acting across the joint. We demonstrate in this study that embryonic immobilization differentially affects the developmental fate of these two distinct fibrocartilages. The absence of the plantar tarsal sesamoid in late-stage immobilized embryos is due to a failure in the initial formation of this structure. In contrast, the early stages of meniscus formation proceed normally. Without the normal mechanical stimuli of skeletal muscle contractions, however, the meniscus fails to mature and ultimately degenerates.

Key words: embryonic immobilization, fibrocartilage, joint development, mechanical loading.


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