Organization and Function of the Collagen Fiber System in the Human Temporomandibular Joint Disk and Its Attachments

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The collagen fiber organization in the anterior band (AB), intermediate zone (IZ) and posterior band (PB) of the disk of the human jaw joint disk and in its attachments was studied under the polarizing microscope. Observations were made on serially sectioned joints (n = 6) and three sets of disk samples sectioned along mutually perpendicular planes (n = 21). The collagen fiber bundles in all disk regions branch and join or are decussated with other bundles. The fibers of the IZ were oriented generally parallel to the disk surfaces. Most of these fibers extend into the AB and PB where they either join with transverse or vertically oriented fiber groups or pass through the bands into the disk attachments. The lateral branching/decussation angles of fibers in the IZ and adjacent regions of the AB and PB were measured in the central region of four disks. The mean angle for all regions was 28 ± 13°. The mean angles in the region transitional between the IZ and AB and in the anterior region of the IZ were significantly greater than those in the posterior part of the IZ (p = 0.001 and 0.050 for the two comparisons). The large caliber, vertically oriented fibers in the AB, IZ and PB were counted in nine specimens. Disk dimensions were also measured in these specimens. The vertically and transversely oriented bundles were more frequent in the band regions. The number of vertically oriented fiber bundles varied within and between the disk bands. Vertical fiber number in the AB was greater laterally than medially (p = 0.04). In the PB the fiber number was greater than in either the AB or IZ (p = 0.000 for both comparisons) and within the PB itself the fiber number was greater in its thicker, medial half (p = 0.014). The fiber number in the AB and IZ was not different. The thickness of the AB, IZ and PB and disk length was measured in sections located laterally, centrally and medially. No difference in disk length was found across these planes. Statistically significant differences were found in regional disk thickness. In all of the mediolateral planes, the AB and PB were thicker than the IZ and the PB was thicker than the AB (p = 0.000 for all comparisons). The IZ was thicker medially than laterally (p = 0.034). The PB was thicker centrally and medially than laterally (p = 0.002 and 0.001, respectively). PB thickness in its central and medial regions was not different. The findings, combined with other evidence, suggest that the fiber system of the disk serves a stress distribution function and that within the AB and PB, the regions containing the greatest number of vertical fibers may also be the sites of greatest compressive stress during jaw function.

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