Objective: Adult articular cartilage shows a limited intrinsic repair response to traumatic injury. To regenerate damaged cartilage, cell-assisted repair is thus viewed as a promising therapy, despite being limited by the lack of a suitable technique to deliver and retain chondrogenic cells at the defect site.
Design: We have developed a cytocompatible chitosan solution that is space-filling, gels within minutes, and adheres to cartilage and bone in situ. This unique combination of properties suggested significant potential for its use as an arthroscopically injectable vehicle for cell-assisted cartilage repair. The primary goal of this study was to assess the ability of this polymer system, when loaded with primary articular chondrocytes, to support cartilage formation in vitro and in vivo. The chitosan gel was cultured in vitro, with and without chondrocytes, as well as injected subcutaneously in nude mice to form subcutaneous dorsal implants. In vitro and in vivo constructs were collectively analyzed histologically, for chondrocyte mRNA and protein expression, for biochemical levels of glycosaminoglycan, collagen, and DNA, and for mechanical properties.
Results: Resulting tissue constructs revealed histochemical, biochemical and mechanical properties comparable to those observed in vitro for primary chondrocytes cultured in 2% agarose. Moreover, the gel was retained after injection into a surgically prepared, rabbit full-thickness chondral defect after 1 day in vivo, and in rabbit osteochondral defects, up to 1 week.
Conclusions: The in situ-gelling chitosan solution described here can support in vitro and in vivo accumulation of cartilage matrix by primary chondrocytes, while persisting in osteochondral defects at least 1 week in vivo.