Dependence of nanoscale friction and adhesion properties of articular cartilage on contact load

S. M T Chan, C. P. Neu, K. Komvopoulos, A Hari Reddi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Boundary lubrication of articular cartilage by conformal, molecularly thin films reduces friction and adhesion between asperities at the cartilage-cartilage contact interface when the contact conditions are not conducive to fluid film lubrication. In this study, the nanoscale friction and adhesion properties of articular cartilage from typical load-bearing and non-load-bearing joint regions were studied in the boundary lubrication regime under a range of physiological contact pressures using an atomic force microscope (AFM). Adhesion of load-bearing cartilage was found to be much lower than that of non-load-bearing cartilage. In addition, load-bearing cartilage demonstrated steady and low friction coefficient through the entire load range examined, whereas non-load-bearing cartilage showed higher friction coefficient that decreased nonlinearly with increasing normal load. AFM imaging and roughness calculations indicated that the above trends in the nanotribological properties of cartilage are not due to topographical (roughness) differences. However, immunohistochemistry revealed consistently higher surface concentration of boundary lubricant at load-bearing joint regions. The results of this study suggest that under contact conditions leading to joint starvation from fluid lubrication, the higher content of boundary lubricant at load-bearing cartilage sites preserves synovial joint function by minimizing adhesion and wear at asperity microcontacts, which are precursors for tissue degeneration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1340-1345
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 29 2011


  • Adhesion
  • Articular cartilage
  • Boundary film
  • Contact load
  • Friction
  • Lubrication
  • SZP/lubricin/PRG4

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation
  • Biophysics
  • Biomedical Engineering


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