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Quantitative description of collagen structure in the articular cartilage of the young and adult equine distal metacarpus

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image of Animal Biology

The orientation and organisation of collagen fibrils play an important role in the mechanical functioning of the articular cartilage (AC) that covers the surfaces in the diarthrodial joints. In the adult animal, typically an arcade like 'Benninghoff structure' is found. Because the remodelling capacity of the collagen network in the adult animal is limited, this Benninghoff structure needs to develop before the animal reaches maturity, and it needs to develop correctly.

The aim of this study is to use quantitative polarised light microscopy (qPLM) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) techniques to investigate if this Benninghoff structure is already present in the young animal, and to quantitatively investigate possible differences in collagen structure in the equine distal metacarpus of the young and adult animal.

In total, 21 forelimbs of 13 horses are used. In animals of age 10 months and older, we find an arcade like Benninghoff structure for the collagen fibril network in both the qPLM and SEM study. The qPLM study shows that the collagen's predominant orientation is parallel to the articular surface throughout the entire cartilage depth in two animals directly after birth. These findings are supported by SEM results on a foal.

We conclude that structural remodelling of the collagen network in AC occurs in the first months after birth. Because animals start with collagen parallel to the articular surface and need to remodel this structure to a Benninghoff architecture, and because collagen structure is an important parameter for AC mechanics and mechanobiology, these results suggest implications for AC epigenetics.

Affiliations: 1: Experimental Zoology Group, Department of Animal Sciences, Wageningen University, PO Box 338, 6700 AH, Wageningen, The Netherlands;, Email:; 2: Experimental Zoology Group, Department of Animal Sciences, Wageningen University, PO Box 338, 6700 AH, Wageningen, The Netherlands


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