The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disc is a little understood structure that, unfortunately, exhibits a plethora of pathologic disorders. Tissue engineering approaches may be warranted to address TMJ disc pathophysiology, but first a clear understanding of structure-function relationships needs to be developed, especially as they relate to the regenerative potential of the tissue. In this review, we correlate the biochemical content of the TMJ disc to its mechanical behavior and discuss what this correlation infers for tissue engineering studies of the TMJ disc. The disc of the TMJ exhibits a somewhat biconcave shape, being thicker in the anterior and posterior bands and thinner in the intermediate zone. The disc, which is certainly an anisotropic and nonhomogeneous tissue, consists almost entirely of type I collagen with trace amounts of type II and other types. In general, collagen fibers in the intermediate zone appear to run primarily in an anteroposterior direction and in a ringlike fashion around the periphery. Collagen orientation is reflected in higher tensile stiffness and strength in the center anteroposteriorly than mediolaterally and in the anterior and posterior bands than the intermediate zone mediolaterally. Tensile tests have shown the disc is stiffer and stronger in the direction of the collagen fibers. Elastin fibers in general appear along the collagen fibers and most likely function in restoring and retaining disc form after loading. The 2 primary glycosaminoglycans of the disc by far are chondroitin sulfate and dermatan sulfate, although their distribution is not clear. Compression studies are conflicting, but evidence suggests the disc is compressively stiffest in the center. Only a few tissue engineering studies of the TMJ disc have been performed to date. Tissue engineering studies must take advantage of existing information for experimental design and construct validation, and more research is necessary to characterize the disc to create a clearer picture of our goals in tissue engineering the TMJ disc.
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