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Regulation of cell volume is a fundamental cellular homeostatic mechanism in the face of osmotic stress. In normal articular cartilage, chondrocytes are exposed to a changing osmotic environment. We present a comprehensive protocol for studying the volume regulatory behavior of chondrocytes within intact cartilage tissue using confocal laser-scanning microscopy. Our data acquisition regime optimizes both signal-to-noise and cell viability during time-lapsed three-dimensional (3-D) (x, y, z, t) imaging. The porcine cartilage is treated as an integrated component of the imaging system, and we demonstrate methods for the direct assessment of tissue-induced axial attenuation and image distortion. Parameterized functions describing these two components of image degradation are used to correct experimental data. The current study also highlights the problems associated with the analysis and visualization of four-dimensional (4-D) images. We have devised two new types of data reconstruction. The first compresses each 3-D time point into a single quantitative view, termed a coordinate view. From these reconstructions we are able to simultaneously view and extract cell measurements. A second type, a 4-D reconstruction, uses color to represent relative changes in cell volume, again while maintaining the morphological and spatial information. Both these approaches of image analysis and visualization have been implemented to study the morphology, spatial distribution, and dynamic volume behavior of chondrocytes after osmotic perturbation. We have mapped chondrocyte shape, arrangement, and absolute volume in situ, which vary significantly from the tissue surface through to the underlying bone. Despite the rigid nature of the extracellular matrix, cartilage cells are osmotically sensitive and respond to stimulation of volume regulatory mechanisms. The combined techniques of confocal laser-scanning microscopy and vital cell labeling have enabled us to study, for the first time, the response of chondrocytes in situ to changes in interstitial osmotic pressure.

Original publication




Journal article


Am J Physiol

Publication Date





C1040 - C1051


Animals, Cartilage, Cell Size, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, In Vitro Techniques, Microscopy, Confocal, Swine, Water-Electrolyte Balance