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|Hyaline cartilage showing chondrocytes and organelles, lacunae and matrix|
Cartilage // is a flexible connective tissue found in many areas in the bodies of humans and other animals, including the joints between bones, the rib cage, the ear, the nose, the bronchial tubes and the intervertebral discs. It is not as hard and rigid as bone but is stiffer and less flexible than muscle.
Cartilage is composed of specialized cells called chondroblasts that produce a large amount of extracellular matrix composed of collagen fibers, abundant ground substance rich in proteoglycan, and elastin fibers. Cartilage is classified in three types, elastic cartilage, hyaline cartilage and fibrocartilage, which differ in the relative amounts of these three main components. Chondroblasts that get caught in the matrix are called chondrocytes. They lie in spaces called lacunae with up to eight chondrocytes per lacuna.
Unlike other connective tissues, cartilage does not contain blood vessels. The chondrocytes are supplied by diffusion, helped by the pumping action generated by compression of the articular cartilage or flexion of the elastic cartilage. Thus, compared to other connective tissues, cartilage grows and repairs more slowly.
Growth and development
In embryogenesis, the skeletal system is derived from the mesoderm germ layer. Chondrification (also known as chondrogenesis) is the process by which cartilage is formed from condensed mesenchyme tissue, which differentiates into chondroblasts and begins secreting the molecules that form the extracellular matrix.
Following the initial chondrification that occurs during embryogenesis, cartilage growth consists mostly of the maturing of immature cartilage to a more mature state. The division of cells within cartilage occurs very slowly, and thus growth in cartilage is usually not based on an increase in size or mass of the cartilage itself. Articular cartilage function is dependent on the molecular composition of its extracellular matrix (ECM), which consists mainly of proteoglycans and collagens. Remodeling of cartilage is predominantly affected by changes and rearrangements of the collagen matrix, which responds to tensile and compressive forces experienced by the cartilage.  Cartilage growth thus refers in most circles to matrix deposition, but can include both growth and remodeling of the extracellular matrix.
Cartilage does not absorb x-rays under normal In vivo conditions, but a dye can be injected into the synovial membrane that will cause the x-rays to be absorbed by the dye. The resulting void on the radiographic film between the bone and meniscus represents the cartilage. For In vitro x-ray scans, the outer soft tissue is most likely removed so the cartilage and air boundary is enough to contrast the presence of cartilage due to refraction of the x-ray.
Diseases and treatment
Several diseases can affect cartilage. Chondrodystrophies are a group of diseases characterized by disturbance of growth and subsequent ossification of cartilage. Some common diseases affecting/involving the cartilage are listed below.
- Osteoarthritis: The cartilage covering bones (articular cartilage—a subset of hyaline cartilage) is thinned, eventually completely worn out, resulting in a "bone against bone" joint, reduced motion, and pain. Osteoarthritis affects the joints exposed to high stress and is therefore considered the result of "wear and tear" rather than a true disease. It is treated by Arthroplasty, the replacement of the joint by a synthetic joint often made of a Stainless Steel alloy (cobalt chromoly) and Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE). Chondroitin sulfate, a monomer of the polysaccharide portion of proteoglycan, has been claimed to reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis, possibly by increasing the synthesis of the extracellular matrix, but recent research has not produced evidence to support this claim.
- Traumatic rupture or detachment: The cartilage in the knee is frequently damaged, and can be partially repaired through knee cartilage replacement therapy
- Achondroplasia: Reduced proliferation of chondrocytes in the epiphyseal plate of long bones during infancy and childhood, resulting in dwarfism.
- Costochondritis: Inflammation of cartilage in the ribs, causing chest pain.
- Spinal disc herniation : Asymmetrical compression of an intervertebral disc ruptures the sac-like disc, causing a herniation of its soft content. The hernia often compresses the adjacent nerves and causes back pain.
- Relapsing polychondritis: a destruction, probably autoimmune, of cartilage, especially of the nose and ears, causing disfiguration. Death occurs by suffocation as the larynx loses its rigidity and collapses.
Tumors made up of cartilage tissue, either benign or malignant, can occur. They usually appear in bone, rarely in pre-existing cartilage. The benign tumors are called chondroma, the malignant ones chondrosarcoma. Tumors arising from other tissues may also produce a cartilage-like matrix, the best known being pleomorphic adenoma of the salivary glands. Conversely, chondrostatin, an ingredient of cartilage, is being investigated by Washington University researchers for its potential ability to shrink breast and musculoskeletal tumors.
The matrix of cartilage acts as a barrier, preventing the entry of lymphocytes or diffusion of immunoglobulins. This property allows for the transplantation of cartilage from one individual to another without fear of tissue rejection.
Cartilage has limited repair capabilities: Because chondrocytes are bound in lacunae, they cannot migrate to damaged areas. Therefore cartilage damage is difficult to heal. Also, because hyaline cartilage does not have a blood supply, the deposition of new matrix is slow. Damaged hyaline cartilage is usually replaced by fibrocartilage scar tissue. Over the last years, surgeons and scientists have elaborated a series of cartilage repair procedures that help to postpone the need for joint replacement.
The mechanical properties of articular cartilage in load bearing joints such as knee and hip have been studied extensively at macro, micro and nano-scales. These mechanical properties include the response of cartilage in frictional, compressive, shear and tensile loading. Cartilage displays viscoelastic properties.
Cartilage in animals
- Pratt, Rebecca. "Supporting Tissue: Cartilage". AnatomyOne. Amirsys, Inc. https://app.anatomyone.com/systemic/skeletal-system/supporting-tissue-cartilage#. Retrieved 26 October 2012.
- . http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1063458407001987.
- . http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003986108001513.
- "Supplements for osteoarthritis 'do not work'". BBC News. 16 September 2010.
- International Cartilage Repair Society ICRS
- Hayes WC, Mockros LF. 1971. Viscoelastic properties of human articular cartilage. J. App. Physiology. Vol. 31, No. 4. 
- Rhee DK, Marcelino J, Baker MA, Gong Y, Smits P, et al. 2005. The secreted glycoprotein lubricin protects cartilage surfaces and inhibits synovial cell overgrowth. J. Clin. Investig. 115:622–31.
- General references
- Keller-Peck, C. (2008). Vertebrate Histology, ZOOL 400. Boise State University.
- Cartilage.org, International Cartilage Repair Society
- KUMC.edu, Cartilage tutorial, University of Kansas Medical Center
- Bartleby.com, text from Gray's anatomy
- MadSci.org, I've heard 'Ears and nose do not ever stop growing.' Is this false?
- CartilageHealth.com, Information on Articular Cartilage Injury Prevention, Repair and Rehabilitation
- About.com, Osteoarthritis