Atomic Force Microscopy Micro-Indentation Methods for Determining the Elastic Modulus of Murine Articular Cartilage

Katherine M. Arnold, Delphine Sicard, Daniel J. Tschumperlin, Jennifer J. Westendorf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The mechanical properties of biological tissues influence their function and can predict degenerative conditions before gross histological or physiological changes are detectable. This is especially true for structural tissues such as articular cartilage, which has a primarily mechanical function that declines after injury and in the early stages of osteoarthritis. While atomic force microscopy (AFM) has been used to test the elastic modulus of articular cartilage before, there is no agreement or consistency in methodologies reported. For murine articular cartilage, methods differ in two major ways: experimental parameter selection and sample preparation. Experimental parameters that affect AFM results include indentation force and cantilever stiffness; these are dependent on the tip, sample, and instrument used. The aim of this project was to optimize these experimental parameters to measure murine articular cartilage elastic modulus by AFM micro-indentation. We first investigated the effects of experimental parameters on a control material, polydimethylsiloxane gel (PDMS), which has an elastic modulus on the same order of magnitude as articular cartilage. Experimental parameters were narrowed on this control material, and then finalized on wildtype C57BL/6J murine articular cartilage samples that were prepared with a novel technique that allows for cryosectioning of epiphyseal segments of articular cartilage and long bones without decalcification. This technique facilitates precise localization of AFM measurements on the murine articular cartilage matrix and eliminates the need to separate cartilage from underlying bone tissues, which can be challenging in murine bones because of their small size. Together, the new sample preparation method and optimized experimental parameters provide a reliable standard operating procedure to measure microscale variations in the elastic modulus of murine articular cartilage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1835
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • AFM
  • articular cartilage
  • chondrocytes
  • cryosectioning
  • osteoarthritis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Information Systems
  • Instrumentation
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Biochemistry


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