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Mechanical stimulation is a key factor in articular cartilage generation and maintenance. Bioreactor systems have been designed and built in order to deliver specific types of mechanical stimulation. The focus has been twofold, applying a type of preconditioning in order to stimulate cell differentiation, and to simulate in vivo conditions in order to gain further insight into how cells respond to different stimulatory patterns. Due to the complex forces at work within joints, it is difficult to simulate mechanical conditions using a bioreactor. The aim of this review is to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of mechanical stimulation protocols by comparing those employed in bioreactors in the context of tissue engineering for articular cartilage, and to consider their effects on cultured cells. Allied and Complementary Medicine 1985 to 2016, Ovid MEDLINE[R] 1946 to 2016, and Embase 1974 to 2016 were searched using key terms. Results were subject to inclusion and exclusion criteria, key findings summarised into a table and subsequently discussed. Based on this review it is overwhelmingly clear that mechanical stimulation leads to increased chondrogenic properties in the context of bioreactor articular cartilage tissue engineering using human cells. However, given the variability and lack of controlled factors between research articles, results are difficult to compare, and a standardised method of evaluating stimulation protocols proved challenging. With improved standardisation in mechanical stimulation protocol reporting, bioreactor design and building processes, along with a better understanding of joint behaviours, we hope to perform a meta-analysis on stimulation protocols and methods.

Original publication




Journal article


Current stem cell research & therapy

Publication Date





260 - 270


University of Edinburgh, College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, 47 Little France Crescent, Edinburgh. United Kingdom.


Cartilage, Articular, Chondrocytes, Animals, Humans, Tissue Engineering, Physical Stimulation, Bioreactors, Mechanotransduction, Cellular, Cell Differentiation, Cell Proliferation, Chondrogenesis, Tissue Scaffolds, Biomechanical Phenomena, Systematic Reviews as Topic