Mandibular Cartilage Collagen Network Nanostructure: Insights for Regeneration

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Mandibular condyle cartilage (MCC) has a unique structure among articular cartilages; however, little is known about its nanoscale collagen network architecture, hampering design of regeneration therapies and rigorous evaluation of regeneration experiment outcomes in preclinical research. Helium ion microscopy is a novel technology with a long depth of field that is uniquely suited to imaging open 3D collagen networks at multiple scales without obscuring conductive coatings.


The objective of this research was to image, at the micro- and nanoscales, the depth-dependent MCC collagen network architecture.


MCC was collected from New Zealand white rabbits. Images of MCC zones were acquired using helium ion, transmission electron, and light microscopy. Network fibril and canal diameters were measured.


For the first time, the MCC was visualized as a 3D collagen fibril structure at the nanoscale, the length scale of network assembly. Fibril diameters ranged from 7 to 110 nm and varied by zone. The articular surface was composed of a fine mesh that was woven through thin layers of larger fibrils. The fibrous zone was composed of approximately orthogonal lamellae of aligned fibrils. Fibrocyte processes surrounded collagen bundles forming extracellular compartments. The proliferative, mature, and hypertrophic zones were composed of a branched network that was progressively remodeled to accommodate chondrocyte hypertrophy. Osteoid fibrils were woven around osteoblast cytoplasmic processes to create numerous canals similar in size to canaliculi of mature bone.


This multiscale investigation advances our foundational understanding of the complex, layered 3D architecture of the MCC collagen network.

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