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Open Access Open Badges Review

High-resolution measurements of the multilayer ultra-structure of articular cartilage and their translational potential

Bo He1, Jian Ping Wu2, Thomas Brett Kirk2, John A Carrino3, Chuan Xiang4* and Jiake Xu15*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia

2 Department of Mechanical Engineering, Curtin University, Kent Street, Bentley, Western Australia 6102, Australia

3 Department of Radiology and Orthopaedic Surgery, Johns Hopkins University, 601 N. Caroline Street, JHOC 5165, Baltimore, MD 21287, USA

4 The Orthopaedic Department, the Second Hospital, Shanxi Medical University, 56 Xinjian South Road, Yingze, Taiyuan, Shanxi 030001, China

5 Research Centre for Regenerative Medicine, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, The First Affiliated Hospital of Guangxi Medical University, 6 Shuangyong Road, Nanning, Guangxi 530021, China

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2014, 16:205  doi:10.1186/ar4506

Published: 12 March 2014


Current musculoskeletal imaging techniques usually target the macro-morphology of articular cartilage or use histological analysis. These techniques are able to reveal advanced osteoarthritic changes in articular cartilage but fail to give detailed information to distinguish early osteoarthritis from healthy cartilage, and this necessitates high-resolution imaging techniques measuring cells and the extracellular matrix within the multilayer structure of articular cartilage. This review provides a comprehensive exploration of the cellular components and extracellular matrix of articular cartilage as well as high-resolution imaging techniques, including magnetic resonance image, electron microscopy, confocal laser scanning microscopy, second harmonic generation microscopy, and laser scanning confocal arthroscopy, in the measurement of multilayer ultra-structures of articular cartilage. This review also provides an overview for micro-structural analysis of the main components of normal or osteoarthritic cartilage and discusses the potential and challenges associated with developing non-invasive high-resolution imaging techniques for both research and clinical diagnosis of early to late osteoarthritis.