Cartilage is held together by elastic glycan strings. Physiological and pathological implications

John E. Scott

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Animal shapes are maintained by connective tissue extracellular matrices (ECMs). ECM shapes depend on keeping collagen fibrils in the right places, held by regular frequent proteoglycan (PG) bridges attached at specific sites. The PGs carry anionic glycosaminoglycan (AGAG) 'strings' that span and determine interfibrillar distances, thus holding us together. I called these repeating structures 'shape modules'. The strings are aggregated antiparallel chains of dermochondan, keratan and chondroitan sulphates (DS, KS and CS); stabilised by hydrophobic and H-bonds. Shape modules are elastic. AGAG/AGAG interactions break under stress and reform when the stress is removed and/or they contain an elastic sugar, L-iduronate (in DS). Cartilage ECMs are also based on shape modules. Depots therein of aggrecan, the large PG which carries many chains of CS and KS, imbibe water, thereby exerting swelling pressure. External pressure forces this water into the elastic shape modules, from whence it is returned post compression. Cartilage anisotropic responses (along and at right angles to shape module axes) to compressive and tensile stresses are now interpretable. Degradation of shape modules in osteoarthrosis reduces these responses. Inability to hold collagen fibrils together results in imbibition of excess water, fissuring and erosion, characteristic of this condition. © 2008 - IOS Press and the authors. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)209-217
    Number of pages8
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


    • Aggrecan
    • Collagen fibrils
    • Decoran
    • Osteoarthrosis
    • Proteoglycans
    • Shape modules


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