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Karl Fischer titration and coulometry for measurement of water content in

small cartilage specimens Bestimmung des Wassergehalts in kleinen
Knorpelproben durch Karl-Fischer-Titrati...

Article  in  Biomedizinische Technik · December 2006

DOI: 10.1515/BMT.2006.069


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8 authors, including:

Gunter Spahn Holger Plettenberg

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen Maquet


Thomas Mückley
HELIOS Kliniken


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Article in press - uncorrected proof
Biomed Tech 2006; 51:xxx-xxx  2006 by Walter de Gruyter • Berlin • New York. DOI 10.1515/BMT.2006.0XX

Karl Fischer titration and coulometry for measurement of

water content in small cartilage specimens
Bestimmung des Wassergehalts in kleinen Knorpelproben durch
Karl-Fischer-Titration und Coulometrie

Gunter Spahn1,*, Holger Plettenberg2, Horst Keywords: cartilage; coulometry; hardness; Karl Fischer
Nagel3, Enrico Kahl4, Hans Michael Klinger4, titration; water.
Manfred Günther2, Thomas Mückley5 and
Gunther O. Hofmann5 Zusammenfassung
Praxisklinik für Unfallchirurgie und Orthopädie, Die Untersuchungen wurden mit dem Ziel durchgeführt,
Eisenach, Germany den Wassergehalt in intaktem und geschädigtem hyali-
fzmb – Forschungszentrum für Medizintechnik und nen Knorpel mit der Karl-Fischer-Titration und der Cou-
Biotechnologie, Bad Langensalza, Germany lometrie zu bestimmen. Knorpelproben wurden aus der
Sartorius AG, Göttingen, Germany Hauptbelastungszone des medialen Femurkondyls von
Orthopädische Klinik, Georg-August-Universität, 38 frischen Schafsknien entnommen. Zwanzig Kondylen
Göttingen, Germany waren intakt, 14-mal wurde ein erstgradiger und 4-mal
Klinik für Unfall-, Hand- und ein zweitgradiger Knorpelschaden gefunden. Die mecha-
Wiederherstellungschirurgie, Friedrich-Schiller- nische Härtemessung wurde mit dem Shore Härtetester
Universität, Jena, Germany (Shore A) bestimmt. Danach wurden Proben von ca. 5 mg
entnommen und mit einem speziellen Feuchtigkeitsana-
Abstract lysegerät untersucht. Es erfolgte eine kontinuierliche
Erwärmung der Proben von Raumtemperatur bis auf
This study evaluated the efficiency of Karl Fischer titra- 1058C. Währendessen erfolgte eine kontinuierliche, elek-
tion and coulometry for measurement of water content in trische Messung der Wasserfreisetzung aus den Proben
small intact and defective cartilage specimens. Cartilage durch Coulometrie. Dabei wird das freigesetzte Wasser
from the main weight-bearing zone of the medial condyle an einer mit dem extrem hygroskopischen Phosphorpen-
of 38 fresh sheep knees was used. Of these, 20 condyles toxid vorbeigeleitet. Durch die elektrochemische Reak-
had an intact cartilage, while defects (14 grade I and 4 tion werden H und O aus der Elektrode freigesetzt. Diese
grade II) were found in the rest. The mechanical hardness Freisetzung korreliert mit der freigesetzten Wassermen-
was determined as Shore A. Cartilage specimens of ge. Der Wasserhalt in intaktem Knorpel betrug 66,9%. In
approximately 5 mg were analyzed in special devices for erstgradig geschädigtem Knorpel (72,6%) und zweitgra-
moisture measurement and then continuously heated up dig geschädigtem Knorpel (77,8%) war der Wassergehalt
to 1058C. The actual measurement was performed in an signifikant höher. In geschädigtem Knorpel fand sich
electric cell (coulometry). An electrode was laminated zudem eine signifikant höhere und schnellere spontane
with hygroscopic phosphorus pentoxide. In the electro- Verdunstung bei Raumtemperatur. Der erhöhte Wasser-
chemical reaction, H and O are liberated from the elec- gehalt und die spontane Verdunstung korrelierten signi-
trode. The requirement for electric energy correlates with fikant mit dem Verlust der mechanischen Härte. Das
the amount of water in the specimen. The water content experimentelle Design (Kombination von Thermogravi-
in intact cartilage was 66.9%. Grade I (72.6%) and grade metrie, Karl-Fischer-Titration und Coulometrie) sind
II (77.8%) defects had significantly higher water content. geeignet zur Wassergehaltsbestimmung in sehr kleinen
Significantly higher and faster spontaneous evaporation Knorpelproben. Dabei ist es zudem möglich, die tempe-
was observed in cartilage defects at room temperature. raturabhängige Wasserfreisetzung aus den Knorpelpro-
The water content and spontaneous water evaporation ben zu messen.
correlated with significantly lower mechanical hardness.
The experimental design (combined method of thermo- Schlüsselwörter: Coulometrie; Karl-Fischer-Titration;
gravimetry, Karl Fischer titration, and coulometry) was Härte; Wasser.
sufficient for evaluating the water content in small carti-
lage specimens. It is also possible to measure the tem-
perature-dependent water liberation from cartilage Introduction
Physiology and pathophysiology of hyaline cartilage
*Corresponding author: Dr. med. Gunter Spahn, Praxisklinik für
Unfallchirurgie und Orthopädie Eisenach, Sophienstr. 16, Cartilage consists of chondrocytes and extracellular
99817 Eisenach, Germany
matrix. The content of cells in cartilage is rare and
Phone: q49-3691-73500
Fax: q49-3691-735011 amounts to only 1–5% of the cartilage volume w11x. The
E-mail: main content of extracellular matrix is water. The main

Article in press - uncorrected proof
2 G. Spahn et al.: Water content in hyaline cartilage

substances in the matrix are collagens (approx. 60% of Materials and methods
the dry weight), proteoglycans (approx. 30% of the dry
weight) and proteins as gylcoproteins and non-glycopro- Specimen and algorithm
teins (approx. 10% of the dry weight). Cartilage water is
mostly bound to the aminoglycan side chains of aggre- A total of 38 fresh sheep knees (17 right and 21 left
can w5, 10x. knees) from 21 different female sheep obtained at nec-
ropsy were used for the study. The knees were stored at
48C and tests were performed a maximum of 12 h after
Evaluation of water content
Different methods can be used to measure water content Specimens were evaluated using the same procedure.
in cartilage specimens. The most simple method is ther- After arthrotomy, the grade of any cartilage defect was
mogravimetry and determination of the cartilage content noted. Exactly 3 min after arthrotomy, the mechanical
in ash w3x. Mostly the water content in cartilage has been hardness was measured. The test for water content
evaluated by freeze-drying methods. The weight of car- measurement was always started 5 min after opening the
tilage is measured before and after freeze-drying and the joints.
difference in weight is calculated. The main disadvantage
of this method is the requirement for a relatively large Grading of cartilage defects
specimen and the time exposure of several hours w1, 6,
The femoral condyles were prepared and the cartilage
defects within the medial condyles were classified
Many methods for water measurements are based on
according to the ICRS protocol w4x. Grading of the car-
chemical reactions (Karl Fischer titration). For example,
tilage defects was undertaken by three independent
organic iodine and sulfuric dioxide react with water,
investigators (GS, HMK, EK) who are highly experienced
resulting iodine hydride. This causes a change in the
in arthroscopic surgery. The highest grade of cartilage
optical density, which is measurable by photometry:
defects was used for evaluation (Figure 1).

I2qSO2qH2O™2HIqH2SO4 Determination of the mechanical hardness

The mechanical stiffness within the mean weight-bearing

Phosphorus pentoxide is a very hygroscopic substance zone of the medial femoral condyle was determined
that reacts with water to form ortho-phosphoric acid: using an instrument to measure Shore hardness A
(Zwick, Ulm, Germany). Stiffness is a term used to char-
acterize mechanical properties (e.g., in the polymer and
2P2O5q3H2O™2H3PO4 rubber industries). The standard measurement is defined
in DIN 53505. The value is defined as the material resis-
In coulometry, an electrode is laminated with phosphorus tance against the standardized pressure of a conical
pentoxide. In the presence of water, the phosphorus indenter (Figure 2). Shore A is a unit ranging from 0 (com-
pentoxide near the electrode reacts with water. In an plete permeation) to 100 (complete resistance).
electrochemical reaction, the phosphoric acid is reduced
to hydrogen and oxygen: Measurement of the water content

After Shore testing, full-thickness cartilage specimens

4H3PO4™2P2O5q6H2q3O2 (approx. 5 mg) were harvested using a biopsy tongue.
Water content measurements were preformed using a
combination of thermogravimetric analysis and coulom-
The mass of a substance produced at an electrode dur- etry (WDS 400, Sartorius AG, Göttingen, Germany; Figure
ing electrolysis is proportional to the number of moles of 3). First the water liberated at room temperature was reg-
electrons (the quantity of electricity) transferred at that istered. All specimens liberated water from the surface
electrode (Faraday’s law). These measurements are often rapidly up to a first peak (Figure 4). After reaching this
used for analysis in chemistry, pharmacology and in peak, the specimens were subjected to continuous heat-
industry w9x. ing up to 1058C. The system was calibrated using sodi-
um tungstate, which has a highly constant water content
Hypothesis of 1.07%.

Water content determination by a coulometric method Statistics

has never been used in the analysis of cartilage com-
position. We hypothesized that this method is able to Statistical analyses were performed on a personal com-
determine water content in small cartilage specimens puter using SPSS v. 13.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA).
quickly. It is also hypothesized that water liberated from After testing for normal distribution and variance homo-
the cartilage is a time- and temperature-dependent pro- geneity, one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) and post
cess. The aim of the study was to evaluate differences hoc pairwise comparison of the means were preformed.
between intact and defective cartilage, as well as corre- Pearson correlation coefficients were used to examine
lation between the mechanical properties of cartilage and the relationships between the parameters. A p-value
the water content. -0.05 was considered significant.
Article in press - uncorrected proof
G. Spahn et al.: Water content in hyaline cartilage 3

Figure 1 Grading of chondral defects (ICRS protocol) w4x. Figure 2 Measurement of cartilage stiffness by the Shore A
(A) Grading system for chondral lesions according to the ICRS test.
protocol. (B) Grade I lesion of the medial femoral condyle (soft- Mechanical hardness is a property of solid material reflecting its
ening and superficial fissuring). resistance to permanent deformation, and correlates with the
stiffness (DIN 53505). (A) The top of a steel cone (0.79 mm, angle
358) is intended to the surface with a constant power of 50 pro-
Results duced by a precision spring. (B) During experiments, the device
was placed on the cartilage surface within the mean weight-
Frequency of cartilage defects bearing zone of the medial femoral condyle for exactly 10 s.
In 20 knees the cartilage was intact. In the remaining
knees, 14 had a grade I defect and 4 a grade II defect.
Cartilage specimen with defects had significantly high-
er superficial water content than specimens from intact
Water content
cartilage (Table 1). The time for water liberation from sur-
Water liberation from the surface of intact cartilage spec- faces tended to be shorter for grade II defects (p-0.236)
imens was significantly slower than from cartilage spec- than for grade I defects. This correlated with the tenden-
imens with defects (Table 1). cy for higher superficial water content in grade II defects
Article in press - uncorrected proof
4 G. Spahn et al.: Water content in hyaline cartilage

compared with grade I defects (p-0.270). The water

content in grade II defects was significantly higher
(p-0.008) than in grade I defects.

Mechanical hardness

Chondral damage correlated significantly with lower

mechanical hardness. Significantly lower Shore hardness
was measured for cartilage defects compared to intact
cartilage (Table 1). No significant differences were found
between grade I and II defects (p-0.752).
Figure 3 Principle of water content measurement.
(With generous permission from Sartorius AG, Göttingen, Correlation between mechanical hardness and
Germany.) water content

The mechanical hardness correlated significantly

(Rs0.540, p-0.000) with water content (Figure 5). Cor-
relation between mechanical hardness and superficial
water liberation (Rs0.495, p-0.02), as well as time of
liberation (Rs0.757, p-0.000), was also significant (Fig-
ure 6).


Water is the most abundant component (60–80% of the

net weight) of hyaline cartilage. Proteoglycans together
with collagen molecules generate a network with a very
high water-binding capacity. Water is mostly bound to
the side chains of aggrecan molecules. The biochemical
composition of the extracellular matrix confers the vis-
coelasticity and mechanical resistance of healthy carti-
Edema, swelling and softening are characteristic for
the early stages of cartilage degeneration. This patholog-
ical process is accompanied with an increase in water
content w2, 7, 12x.
In our experiment we found an approximately 7% high-
er water content in cartilage defects. The experimental
design of our measurement allowed determination of the
water content in very small cartilage specimens within a
short time interval of 15 min. The accuracy of the devices
for water quantification is 1 mg.
During the experiment, water liberation by evaporation
of approximately 3–5% within 170–230 s was observed
Figure 4 Measurement of water content. at room temperature. This water liberation conforms to
In the first step, water liberated from the specimens at room water that adheres to the surface of the specimen w9x.
temperature (water from the specimen surface) was registered.
This ‘‘superficial water content’’ was significantly higher
The time and percentage water content at this time (peak) were
measured. In the next step, specimens were subjected to con- in cartilage defects. The liberation of superficial water
tinuous heating up to 1058C. The water content was measured required a significantly shorter time interval in the case
after 15 min. The integral of the area correlates with the water of cartilage defects than for intact cartilage.
content. The reason for this observation is still unclear. First,
cartilage defects may contain more free water (non-cova-

Table 1 ((•••author: give heading, please•••)).

Cartilage defect p

Intact (ns20) Grade I (ns14) Grade II (ns4)

Evaporation time for superficial water (s) 3.9"0.5 2.5"0.4 2.8"0.2 -0.000
Superficial water content (%) 3.6"1.0 4.9"1.6 5.9"0.6 -0.001
Water content (%) 66.9"4.8 72.6"3.1 77.8"2.7 -0.000
Mechanical hardness (Shore A) 90.5"5.6 64.1"6.5 65.2"6.2 -0.000
Article in press - uncorrected proof
G. Spahn et al.: Water content in hyaline cartilage 5

mately 3–5% of their net weight by simple evaporation.

This must be considered in future experiments.


Coulometry, e.g., by Karl Fischer titration or using a WDS

400 instrument, is a very sensitive method for evaluation
of water content in cartilage. The accuracy of the tests
is approximately 1 mg of water. The main advantage is
the short time required for measurements. Small speci-
mens of approximately 5 mg are sufficient for an exact
analysis. Water liberation from cartilage is a temperature-
dependent process. Up to 5% of the total water is lib-
erated by simple evaporation within a few minutes. The
higher water content and spontaneous evaporation in
cartilage defects correlate with lower mechanical hard-
Figure 5 Correlation between water content and mechanical
The mechanical hardness is significantly correlated (Rs0.540,
p-0.000) with the water content.
lently bound) that is more quickly liberated by simple
evaporation. Second, it is also possible that the de- w1x Appleyard RC, Burkhardt D, Ghosh P, et al. Topographical
creased mechanical resistance of defective cartilage analysis of the structural, biochemical and dynamic bio-
mechanical properties of cartilage in an ovine model of
plays a role. The specimens were obtained using an
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centration and chain length, water and ash content. J Clin
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Invest 1966; 45: 1170–1177.
chondral edema, in which ‘‘superficial water’’ possibly w4x Brittberg M, Winalski CS. Evaluation of cartilage injuries
plays an important role. and repair. J Bone Joint Surg Am 2003; 85-A (Suppl 2):
Cartilage is a very susceptible and unstable tissue. At 58–69.
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385–397.((•••author: references 10 and 11 are exactly
Figure 6 Correlation of surface water content and mechanical the same. Please review and either change or delete
hardness. one of the references•••))
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