Research ArticleBone

Radiocarbon dating reveals minimal collagen turnover in both healthy and osteoarthritic human cartilage

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Science Translational Medicine  06 Jul 2016:
Vol. 8, Issue 346, pp. 346ra90
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aad8335

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Cartilage claims a permament home

It has long been debated for many tissues in our bodies whether they are permanent or constantly refreshed as we go through life. Nuclear bomb testing in the 1950s and 1960s released a large amount of the carbon-14 isotope into the atmosphere, giving researchers the ability to determine the age and turnover of human tissues, ranging from the heart to the brain to, now, the cartilage. Heinemeier and colleagues used this so-called “14C bomb pulse” method to date cartilage from 23 individuals ranging from 18 to 76 years of age. They examined cartilage from knee joints, taking samples from both highly and moderately loaded areas, in both healthy individuals and those with osteoarthritis. The authors discovered that the collagen matrix of human cartilage is essentially permanent, with no major replacement even with disease. This finding has important implications for the tissue engineering and regenerative medicine fields, where the structural permanence of collagen will need to be contemplated when designing new cartilage repair strategies.