Although the contribution of the circumferential collagen bundles to the anisotropic tensile stiffness of meniscal tissue has been well described, the implications of interactions between tissue components for other mechanical properties have not been as widely examined. This study compared the effects of the proteoglycan-associated osmotic swelling stress on meniscal fibrocartilage and articular cartilage (AC) mechanics by manipulating the osmotic environment and tissue compressive offset. Cylindrical samples were obtained from the menisci and AC of bovine stifles, equilibrated in phosphate-buffered saline solutions ranging from 0.1× to 10×, and tested in oscillatory torsional shear and unconfined compression. Biochemical analysis indicated that treatments and testing did not substantially alter tissue composition. Mechanical testing revealed tissue-specific responses to both increasing compressive offset and decreasing bath salinity. Most notably, reduced salinity dramatically increased the shear modulus of both axially and circumferentially oriented meniscal tissue explants to a much greater extent than for cartilage samples. Combined with previous studies, these findings suggest that meniscal proteoglycans have a distinct structural role, stabilizing, and stiffening the matrix surrounding the primary circumferential collagen bundles.
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