Understanding the mechanisms that underpin post-natal maturation of articular cartilage is of crucial importance for designing the next generation of tissue engineering strategies and potentially repairing diseased or damaged cartilage. In general, postnatal maturation of the articular cartilage, which is a wholesale change in collagen structure and function of the tissue to accommodate growth of the organism, occurs over a timescale ranging from months to years. Conversely dissolution of the structural organization of the cartilage that also occurs over long timescales is the hallmark of tissue degeneration. Our ability to study these biological processes in detail have been enhanced by the findings that growth factors can induce precocious in vitro maturation of immature articular cartilage. The developmental and disease related changes that occur in the joint involve bone and cartilage and an ability to co-image these tissues would significantly increase our understanding of their intertwined roles.
The simultaneous visualization of soft tissue, cartilage and bone changes is nowadays a challenge to overcome for conventional preclinical imaging modalities used for the joint disease follow-up. Three-dimensional X-ray Phase-Contrast Imaging methods (PCI) have been under perpetual developments for 20 years due to high performance for imaging low density objects and their ability to provide additional information compared to conventional X-ray imaging.
In this protocol we detail the procedure used in our experiments from biopsy of the cartilage, generation of in vitro matured cartilage to data analysis of image collected using X-ray phase contrast imaging.