Tribological altruism: A sacrificial layer mechanism of synovial joint lubrication in articular cartilage

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Boundary lubrication is characterized by sliding surfaces separated by a molecularly thin film that reduces friction and wear of the underlying substrate when fluid lubrication cannot be established. In this study, the wear and replenishment rates of articular cartilage were examined in the context of friction coefficient changes, protein loss, and direct imaging of the surface ultrastructure, to determine the efficiency of the boundary lubricant (BL) layer. Depletion of cartilage lubricity occurred with the concomitant loss of surface proteoglycans. Restoration of lubrication by incubation with synovial fluid was much faster than incubation with culture media and isolated superficial zone protein. The replenishment action of the BL layer in articular cartilage was rapid, with the rate of formation exceeding the rate of depletion of the BL layer to effectively protect the tissue from mechanical wear. The obtained results indicate that boundary lubrication in articular cartilage depends in part on a sacrificial layer mechanism. The present study provides insight into the natural mechanisms that minimize wear and resist tissue degeneration over the lifetime of an organism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2426-2431
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number14
StatePublished - Sep 21 2012


  • Articular cartilage
  • Boundary lubrication
  • Replenishment
  • Sacrificial lubrication
  • Wear

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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