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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Mechanical effects of surgical procedures on osteochondral grafts elucidated by osmotic loading and real-time ultrasound

Koji Hattori12*, Kota Uematsu2, Tomohiro Matsumoto1 and Hajime Ohgushi1

Author Affiliations

1 Research Institute for Cell Engineering, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, 3-11-46, Nakoji, Amagasaki, Hyogo 661-0974, Japan

2 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Nara Medical University, 840, Shijyo-cho, Kashihara, Nara 634-8522, Japan

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2009, 11:R134  doi:10.1186/ar2801

Published: 2 September 2009



Osteochondral grafts have become popular for treating small, isolated and full-thickness cartilage lesions. It is recommended that a slightly oversized, rather than an exact-sized, osteochondral plug is transplanted to achieve a tight fit. Consequently, impacting forces are required to insert the osteochondral plug into the recipient site. However, it remains controversial whether these impacting forces affect the biomechanical condition of the grafted articular cartilage. The present study aimed to investigate the mechanical effects of osteochondral plug implantation using osmotic loading and real-time ultrasound.


A full-thickness cylindrical osteochondral defect (diameter, 3.5 mm; depth, 5 mm) was created in the lateral lower quarter of the patella. Using graft-harvesting instruments, an osteochondral plug (diameter, 3.5 mm as exact-size or 4.5 mm as oversize; depth, 5 mm) was harvested from the lateral upper quarter of the patella and transplanted into the defect. Intact patella was used as a control. The samples were monitored by real-time ultrasound during sequential changes of the bathing solution from 0.15 M to 2 M saline (shrinkage phase) and back to 0.15 M saline (swelling phase). For cartilage sample assessment, three indices were selected, namely the change in amplitude from the cartilage surface (amplitude recovery rate: ARR) and the maximum echo shifts from the cartilage surface and the cartilage-bone interface.


The ARR is closely related to the cartilage surface integrity, while the echo shifts from the cartilage surface and the cartilage-bone interface are closely related to tissue deformation and NaCl diffusion, respectively. The ARR values of the oversized plugs were significantly lower than those of the control and exact-sized plugs. Regarding the maximum echo shifts from the cartilage surface and the cartilage-bone interface, no significant differences were observed among the three groups.


These findings demonstrated that osmotic loading and real-time ultrasound were able to assess the mechanical condition of cartilage plugs after osteochondral grafting. In particular, the ARR was able to detect damage to the superficial collagen network in a non-destructive manner. Therefore, osmotic loading and real-time ultrasound are promising as minimally invasive methods for evaluating cartilage damage in the superficial zone after trauma or impact loading for osteochondral grafting.