Studies were conducted of some of the nonequilibrium, electrolyte-activated, electromechanical and osmotic processes that can affect the tensile properties of articular cartilage. We measured changes in tensile force that were induced by altering the ionic environment of strips of cartilage held at fixed length. We compared the kinetics of changes in these macroscopically measured isometric tensile forces to theoretical estimates of the time constants that characterize the underlying physical and chemical mechanisms occurring within the cartilage specimens during the experiment. Changes in the tensile force induced by changing the bath neutral salt concentration surrounding the specimen appear to be rate-limited by the diffusion of the salt into the specimen. That is, the mechanical stress relaxation process resulting from changes in salt concentration seems to be occurring at least as rapidly as the diffusion of salt into the matrix. When the bath concentration of CaCl2 or HCl is varied, the rate of change in the resulting isometric stresses indicates that Ca++ and H+ ions are binding to the cartilage matrix macromolecules.

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