A decreased subchondral trabecular bone tissue elastic modulus is associated with pre-arthritic cartilage damage
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In osteoarthritis, one postulate is that changes in the mechanical properties of the subchondral bone layer result in cartilage damage. The goal of this study was to examine changes in subchondral trabecular bone properties at the calcified tissue level in the early stages of cartilage damage. Finite element models were constructed from microCT scans of trabectilar bone from the proximal tibia of donors with mild cartilage damage and from normal donors. In the donors with cartilage damage, macroscopic damage was present only in the medial compartment. The effective tissue elastic moduli were determined using a combination of finite element models and mechanical testing. The bone tissue modulus was reduced by 60% in the medial condyle of the cases with cartilage damage compared to the control specimens. Neither the presence of cartilage damage nor the anatomic site (medial vs. lateral) affected the elastic modulus at the apparent level. The volume fraction of trabecular bone was higher in the medial compartment compared to the lateral compartment of tibiae with cartilage damage (but not the controls), suggesting that mechanical properties were preserved in part at the apparent level by an increase in the bone volume fraction. It seems likely that the normal equilibrium between cartilage properties, bone tissue properties and bone volume fraction is disrupted early in the development of osteoarthritis.