Articular Cartilage Aging and Degeneration

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SummaryThe remarkable ability of articular cartilage to provide a low-friction gliding surface and to simultaneously distribute loads across synovial joints makes possible the rapid, smooth, painless movements necessary for participation in sports. Unfortunately, with increasing age, the prevalence of articular cartilage degenerative changes increases and for many individuals these changes lead to a deterioration of joint function, joint pain, and in some instances joint deformity and instability recognized as the clinical syndrome of osteoarthritis. Despite extensive study, the reason for the relationship between aging and articular cartilage degeneration remains uncertain, but age-related changes in articular cartilage alter its mechanical properties and decrease its strength, thereby increasing the risk of tissue damage caused by mechanical loading. At the same time, age-related changes in matrix composition and chondrocyte function adversely alter the ability of the cells to maintain and restore the tissue. The combination of the age-related decline in mechanical properties and decreased ability of the cells to maintain and restore the matrix increases the probability of developing progressive loss of articular cartilage after tissue damage. Understanding this process can help decrease the risk of degenerative joint disease and may lead to interventions that delay or reverse cartilage degeneration.

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