Evidence for plical support of the patella

Abstract

There is a consensus that there is no overt anterior joint capsule in the knee. However, other anterior structures act in lieu of a joint capsule: the quadriceps tendon and patellar retinacular fibres. In the absence of a capsule, the synovium forms the suprapatellar pouch. Other synovial structures, the plicae, are more controversial. They are often described as embryonic remnants with no function, despite surrounding the patella. We aimed to identify plical anatomy and histology on cadaveric dissection and to examine their embryology using the human virtual embryo website. Plicae were identified by two independent observers. Plical histology was examined using a panel of stains: H&E, Ab H&E, EVG and MSB trichrome. Embryonic knees were examined from Carnegie stages 20–23. Each knee had a suprapatellar plica and mediopatellar plica (MPP). The lateropatellar plica (LPP) appeared as a band in 5/10 cadavers, and as a ridge in the remainder. The overall impression, consistent across all specimens, was that the plicae formed a continuous band of synovial tissue around the proximal three-quarters of the patella. The infrapatellar fat pad (IFP) surrounded the remainder. Histologically, the plicae and IFP consisted of three layers (in order): a synovial layer, an undulated collagenous layer, and an adipose or areoloadipose layer. The subsynovial collagenisation is normally associated with the synovio-capsular boundary. Embryologically, plicae were not seen in either knee at any level for any given Carnegie stage. We suggest that plicae, along with the dynamic IFP, provide internal support to the patella mirroring the external support of retinacular fibres. Thus, the plicae complete the tissue complex acting in lieu of an anterior joint capsule. Evidence of plical functionality lends credence to the theory that the plicae are anatomical structures not functionless embryonic remnants.

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