Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
ISSN: 1303 - 2968   
Ios-APP Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
Androit-APP Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
from September 2014
©Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2004) 03, 37 - 43

Research article
Effects of High-Impact Mechanical Loading on Synovial Cell Cultures
Irene Sun1, Yunlong Liu2,3, Shigeo M. Tanaka1, Chung W. Lee2, Hui Bin Sun1,2, Hiroki Yokota1,2,3, 
Author Information
1 Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, USA
2 Biomedical Engineering Program, Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, USA
3 Department of Biomedical Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, USA

Hiroki Yokota
✉ Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Indiana University School of Medicine, 635 Barnhill Drive, MS-504, Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA
Publish Date
Received: 02-12-2003
Accepted: 06-02-2004
Published (online): 01-03-2004
Share this article

Cartilage metabolism in response to mechanical loading is an important subject in sports science and medicine. In animal studies high-impact exercise is known to stimulate bone adaptation and increase bone mass. However, mechanical impacts potentially induce tissue swelling and occasionally degradation of connective tissues in synovium and articular cartilage. These detrimental outcomes should be properly evaluated clinically and biochemically. Using two synovial cell cultures derived from normal and rheumatic tissues, we examined the biochemical effects of impulsive mechanical loads on expression and activities of influential proteolytic enzymes in joints, matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), and their natural inhibitors, tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases (TIMPs). The molecular analysis demonstrates that an impact factor (Im), the ratio of the maximum force to weight, served as a good indicator for assessment of the inflammatory responses. The results showed that high impact above Im = 40 to 80 elevated not only expression but also enzymatic activities of MMPs.

Key words: Impulsive factor, rheumatoid arthritis, synovium, MMP

           Key Points
  • High-impact loading elevated expression and activities of MMPs in synovial cell cultures.
  • The impact factor was used to define intensity of high-impact loading.


Inflammation and destruction of joint tissues such as articular cartilage and synovium is a serious health issue in sports science and medicine (Oddis, 1996). Exercise has long been studied as a means of improving bone mass density and stimulating bone growth, and animal studies show enhancement of new bone formation with varying mechanical loading (Turner, 1998). However, osteogenic efficacy of high-impact loads should not jeopardize a process of cartilage metabolism. Previous studies suggest that high levels of mechanical stress are linked to progression of arthritis including cartilage damage, apoptosis of chondrocytes, and matrix degradation (Fujisawa et al., 1999; Lane Smith et al., 2000). A thin layer of synovial membrane in a joint is subjected to varying mechanical stress during running and cutting maneuvers including shear stress and impulsive shock (Armstrong, 1986; Besier, 2000).

In the current study, we addressed a question about whether impulsive shocks would affect expression and enzyme activities of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) (Shingleton et al., 1996), a class of tissue-degrading proteases, as well as their natural inhibitors, tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases (TIMPs) (Brew et al., 2000). MMPs are considered influential mediators of joint destruction in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes the joint to lose its shape and alignment (Konttinen et al., 1999). The role of TIMPs is to reduce proteolytic activities of MMPs. We focused on two independent cultures of synoviocytes, one isolated from normal tissue and the other from the tissue with rheumatoid arthritis. These synovial cells cover osseous surfaces and intracapsular ligaments, and bear mechanical loads by deforming their shape (Schett et al., 2001). Synovial cells are the main supply source of MMPs and they show the first signs of inflammatory response.

We defined an impact factor to examine quantitatively the effects of the high-impact mechanical loads on cellular responses. Messenger RNA levels of MMPs and TIMPs of synovial cells subjected to high-impact loading were determined by reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) at varying strength of impacts. Two specific MMP activities, collagenase and gelatinase activities, were assayed with fluorescent markers. The results support significant elevation of proteolytic responses by high-impact loads above a threshold.


Cell culture

Two synovial cell cultures, NS101 and MH7A, were used in the study. NS101 cells were derived from a normal human synovial membrane (Khalkhali-Ellis et al., 1997), and MH7A cells were isolated from the intra-articular soft tissue of the knee joint of a patient with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (Miyazawa et al., 1998). Cells were grown to a confluency of ~ 70% in a 35 mm culture plate in RPMI-1640 media (Cambrex Bio Science Walkersville, Inc., Walkersville, MD, U.S.A.) supplemented by 10% fetal calf serum (Atlanta Biologicals, Norcross, GA, U.S.A.) and antibiotics (1 U/ml penicillin, and 1 μg/ml streptomycin) at 37° C. Before applying high-impact mechanical loads, cells were mildly starved for 12 hours in the media with 1% fetal calf serum.

Notice: Undefined offset: 0 in /home/jssm/domains/ on line 140
Application of impulsive shock

A single impulsive shock was applied to synovial cells by dropping a culture dish onto a concrete pad ~ 5 cm thick that was suspended by three elastic supporting ropes. The culture dish was filled with the media, and the applied impulsive shock was quantified through the impact factor, Im (the ratio of the maximum force to weight): where h = drop height, and dst = static displacement. The value of dst, 0.031 cm in this experiment, was calculated from a spring constant of the extendable supports (Hamrock et al., 1999). The impact factors of 20, 40, and 80 were chosen and achieved by the drop heights of 6 cm, 24 cm, and 97 cm, respectively. The piezoelectric sensor was used to evaluate the impact intensity as a function of the selected drop heights (Figure 1). Note that although the three selected impact factors may simulate varying impulsive shocks with cell cultures, exercise regimens are different from in vitro experiments in terms of many factors including stress spectrum, duty cycles, and interactions with surrounding tissues.


RT-PCR was employed to determine the mRNA levels of MMP-1, MMP-2, MMP-13, TIMP-1, TIMP-2, and TIMP-3. Total RNA was isolated using RNeasy minikits (Qiagen Inc., Stanford Valencia, CA, U.S.A.), and the isolated RNA was reverse-transcribed by MMMLV reverse transcriptase (Applied Biosystems, Branchburg, NJ, U.S.A.) using random primers. The PCR primers are listed in Table 1. The PCR procedure included a hot start at 94°C for 5 min, followed by 32 cycles at 94°C for denaturation (45 sec), 55-62° C for annealing (90 sec), and 72°C for extension (30-90 sec). Glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) was used as control. The mRNA level in response to high impacts was normalized by the control level without high-impact stimuli.

Fibril Degradation Assay

Collagenase and gelatinase activities were determined by a fibril degradation assay using an EnzChek gelatinase/collagenase assay kit (Molecular Probes Inc., Eugene, OR, USA) (Sun and Yokota, 2002). Total proteins in the culture medium at 30, 60, and 90 min after application of the impulsive shock were used. The medium was incubated with the fluorescent substrate at room temperature for 2 hours in the reaction buffer. Fluorescent intensity at an absorption/emission wavelength of 495/515 nm was measured with a FluoroMax-2 spectrofluorometer (Instruments S.A., Inc., Edison, NJ, USA).


All experiments were performed three times, and the mean and standard error of mean were calculated. The MMP mRNA level and the MMP activity level of loaded cells were normalized by the level of control cells (no mechanical loads). A t-test was conducted between the loaded cells and control cells using StatView (SAS Institute, Inc., Cary, NC, USA), and the p-value < 0.01 was considered statistically significant.


Alteration in MMP mRNA expression by impulsive shock

In both normal synovial cells (NS101) and RA synovial cells (MH7A), the RT-PCR results showed clearly an increase in the mRNA level of MMP-1, MMP-2, and MMP-13 in response to impulsive shocks. The response was dependent on the incubation time after the shock, the impact factors, and MMPs (Figure 2). First, regardless of the impact factor the incubation for 30 min was insufficient to stimulate mRNA expression of any MMPs. It required 60 min for MMP-1 and 120 min for MMP-2 and MMP-13 to elevate their mRNA level. Second, the effects of the shock with Im = 20 was insignificant for all cases except for MMP-1 with a 120-min incubation. The shocks with Im = 40 and 80 were required to alter the expression of MMP-2 and MMP-13.

Alteration in TIMP mRNA expression by impulsive shock

The effects of impulsive shocks on the mRNA level of TIMP-1, TIMP-2, and TIMP-3 were also dependent on the incubation time after the shock, the impact factors, and TIMPs in NS101 (normal) and MH7A (RA) cells (Figure 3). Among three TIMPs studied here only the TIMP-2 mRNA level was elevated after 30-min incubation. The longer incubation for 60 min and 120 min elevated all three TIMPs. The shock with Im = 20 was effective to increase the mRNA level of TIMP-3 alone. The shocks with Im = 40 and 80 elevated the mRNA level of all TIMPs.

Increase in collagenase and gelatinase activities by impulsive shock

Enzyme activities of collagenases and gelatinases increased in response to impulsive shocks in both NS101 cells and MH7A cells. The impact factor was directly correlated to both collagenase and gelatinase activities (Figure 4A). Particularly, collagenase activities, which would initiate degradation of intact collagen fibers, were significantly affected by impact factors.

The proteolytic activity in MH7A cells with rheumatoid arthritis matched or exceeded the activity in NS101 normal cells (Figure 4B). MMP activities in both cells were at the similar level in response to the shock with Im = 20. In response to Im = 40 and 80, however, collagenase activities in MH7A cells were higher than those of NS101 cells by as much as 73% (Im = 80 at 120 min). The difference between NS101 cells and MH7A cells was less pronounced in gelatinase activities, which differed significantly at only one point (Im = 80 at 120 min).


The current study demonstrated that the expression of the selected MMPs as well as their proteolytic activities was elevated by high-impact mechanical loads in normal and rheumatic synovial cells. MMP expression was dependent on the impact factor, and incubation time after application of mechanical loads in vitro. Although the expression of TIMPs was also increased, their increase was not sufficient to suppress collagenase and gelatinase activities. After application of high-impact loads with Im = 80, collagenase and gelatinase activities increased an average of 50.3%. Thus, our in vitro study using synovial cells provides evidence that high-impact loads can potentially damage joint tissues by inducing MMP activities. Our results were consistent to the previous studies using chondrocyte cells, where MMPs were upregulated by shear stress and cyclic loads (Honda et al., 2000; Jin et al., 2000).

The biochemical results also suggested that rheumatoid cells were more sensitive to high-impact loads. We observed higher MMP activities in MH7A rheumatoid cells than normal cells in response to impulsive shock. The findings suggest that normal cells may have superior protective ability to impulsive shock, although the current data are limited with two cell lines and examination of other cell cultures is necessary to derive statistically significant interpretation.

Linking the impact factor in the current biochemical study to loads involved in high-impact exercise is crucial. The ground reactions are not transmitted directly to the knee joint surface. During typical walking, the ratio of maximum loads to body weight, which approximates the impact factor in vivo, reaches approximately 4 in a hip joint (Unsworth, 1991). It is of our future interest to determine the impact factor in joints during exercise and evaluate expression and activities of MMPs.

Regular physical activity has numerous health benefits for persons of all ages (NIH, 2001). Animal studies indicate enhancement of bone formation with impact loading (Turner, 1998), and it is reported that high-impact exercise promotes bone gain in well-trained female athletes (Taaffe et al., 1997). We provided unique in vitro evidence from a view point of proteolytic activities that excessive high-impact exercise potentially induces joint inflammation and degradation. An allowable level of high-impact loads may differ depending on inflammatory states of joint tissues as well as loading conditions such as duty cycles and rest periods.


In conclusion, the current in vitro study suggests that expression and enzymatic activities of MMPs can be elevated in the synovium by high-impact exercise.


We appreciate Zhila Khalkhali-Ellis for NS101 cells. This study was supported in part by NIH R03AR047628 (to H.B.S.).


Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Irene Sun
Employment: Undergraduate Student at Harvard University
Research interests: Children’s sports medicine

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Yunlong Liu
Employment: Graduate Student at Purdue University
Degree: MSc, PhD candidate
Research interests: Mathematical modelling of gene expression

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Shigeo M. Tanaka
Employment: Ass. Scientist of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Indiana University School of Medicine
Degree: MSc, PhD
Research interests: Biomechanics of bone and joints

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Chung W. Lee
Employment: Graduate Student at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis
Degree: MSc
Research interests: Biomechanics

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Hui Bin Sun
Employment: Ass. Scientist of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Indiana University School of Medicine
Degree: MSc, PhD
Research interests: molecular analysis of bone and articular cartilage

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Hiroki Yokota
Employment: Ass. Prof. of Biomedical Engineering, Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis
Degree: MSc, PhD
Research interests: Biomechanics and gene regulation
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Armstrong C. G. (1986) An analysis of the stresses in a thin layer of articular cartilage in a synovial joint. Engineering in Medicine 15, 55-61.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Besier T. F., Lloyd D.G., Ackland T.R., Cochrane J.L. (2000) Anticipatory effects on knee joint loading during running and cutting maneuvers. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 33, 1176-1181.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Brew K., Dinakarpandian D., Nagase H. (2000) Tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases: evolution, structure and function. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1477, 267-283.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Fujisawa T., Hattori T., Takahashi K., Kuboki T., Yamashita A., Takigawa M. (1999) Cyclic mechanical stress induces extracellular matrix degradation in cultured chondrocytes via gene expression of matrix metalloproteinases and interleukin-1. Journal of Biochemistry (Tokyo) 125, 966-975.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Hamrock B. J., Jacobson B. O., Schmid S. R. (1999) Fundamentals of Machine Elements. WCB/ McGraw-Hill.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Honda K., Ohno S., Tanimoto K., Ijuin C., Tanaka N., Doi T., Kato Y., Tanne K. (2000) The effects of high magnitude cyclic tensile load on cartilage matrix metabolism in cultured chondrocytes. European Journal of Cell Biology 79, 601-609.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Jin G., Sah R. L., Li Y. S., Lotz M., Shyy J. Y., Chien S. (2000) Biomechanical regulation of matrix metalloproteinase-9 in cultured chondrocytes. Journal of Orthopeadic Research 18, 899-908.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Khalkhali-Ellis Z., Seftor E. A., Nieva D. R., Seftor R. E., Samaha H. A., Bultman L., De Larco J. E., Ince A., Moore T. L., Hendrix M. J. (1997) Induction of invasive and degradative phenotype in normal synovial fibroblasts exposed to synovial fluid from patients with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis: role of mononuclear cell population. Journal of Rheumatology 24, 2451-60.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Konttinen Y. T., Ainola M., Valleala H., Ma J., Ida H., Mandelin J., Kinne R. W., Santavirta S., Sorsa T., Lopez-Otin C., Takagi M. (1999) Analysis of 16 different matrix metalloproteinases (MMP-1 to MMP-20) in the synovial membrane: different profiles in trauma and rheumatoid arthritis. Annals of Rheumatic Diseases 58, 691-697.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Lane Smith R., Trindade M. C., Ikenoue T., Mohtai M., Das P., Carter D. R., Goodman S. B., Schurman D. J. (2000) Effects of shear stress on articular chondrocyte metabolism. Biorheology 37, 95-107.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Miyazawa K., Mori A., Okudaira H. (1998) Establishment and characterization of a novel human rheumatoid fibroblast-like synoviocyte line, MH7A, immortalized with SV40 T antigen. Journal of Biochemistry (Tokyo) 124, 1153-1162.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine NIH (National Institute of Health) (2001) NIH Consensus Development Panel on Osteoporosis Prevention, Diagnosis, and Therapy, March 7-29, 2000: highlights of the conference. Southern Medical Journal 94, 569-573.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Oddis C. V. (1996) New perspectives on osteoarthritis. American Journal of Medicine 100, 10S-15S.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Schett G., Tohidast-Akrad M., Steiner G., Smolen J. (2001) Thestressed synovium. Arthritis Research 3, 80-86.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Shingleton W. D., Hodges D. J., Brick P., Cawston T.E. (1996) Collagenase: a key enzyme in collagen turnover. Biochemistry and Cell Biology 74, 759-775.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Sun H. B., Yokota H. (2002) Reduction of cytokine-induced expression and activity of MMP-1 and MMP-13 by mechanical strain in MH7A rheumatoid synovial cells. Matrix Biology 21, 263-270.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Taaffe D. R., Robinson T. L., Snow C. M., Marcus R. (1997) High-impact exercise promotes bone gain in well-trained female athletes. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 12, 255-260.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Turner C. H. (1998) Three rules for bone adaptation to mechanical stimuli. Bone 23, 399-407.
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Unsworth A. (1991) Tribology of human and artificial joints. Journal of Engineering in Medicine [H] 205, 163-172.
Home Issues About Authors
Contact Current Editorial board Authors instructions
Email alerts In Press Mission For Reviewers
Archive Scope
Supplements Statistics
Most Read Articles
  Most Cited Articles
JSSM | Copyright 2001-2020 | All rights reserved. | LEGAL NOTICES | Publisher

It is forbidden the total or partial reproduction of this web site and the published materials, the treatment of its database, any kind of transition and for any means, either electronic, mechanic or other methods, without the previous written permission of the JSSM.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.