The meniscus plays a central load bearing role in the knee joint. Unfortunately, meniscus injury is common and can lead to joint degeneration and osteoarthritis. In small animal models, progressive degenerative changes occur with unloading of the meniscus via destabilization of the medial meniscus (DMM). However, few large animal models of DMM exist and the joint-wide initiation of disease has not yet been defined in these models.
Thus, the goal of this study was to develop and validate a large-animal model of surgically-induced destabilization of the medial meniscus and to use multi-modal (mechanical, histological, and MRI) and multi-scale (joint to tissue level) quantitative measures to evaluate degeneration in both the meniscus and cartilage. DMM was achieved using an arthroscopic approach in thirteen Yucatan minipigs.
One month after DMM, joint contact area decreased and peak pressure increased, indicating altered load transmission as a result of meniscus destabilization. By three months, the joint had adapted to the injury and load transmission patterns were restored to baseline, likely due to the formation and maturation of a fibrovascular scar at the anterior aspect of the meniscus. Despite this, we found a decrease in the indentation modulus of the tibial cartilage and an increase in cartilage histopathology scores at one month compared to Sham operated animals; these deleterious changes persisted through three months. Over this same time course, meniscus remodeling was evident through decreased proteoglycan staining in DMM compared to Sham menisci at both one and three months.
These findings support that arthroscopic DMM results in joint degeneration in the Yucatan minipig and provides a new large animal test bed in which to evaluate therapeutics and interventions to treat post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA) that originates from meniscal injury.