Objective: Autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI) has been successfully used for the treatment of osteochondral lesions of the talus. One of the main problems of this surgical strategy is related to the harvesting of the cartilage slice from a healthy knee. The aim of this study was to examine the capacity of chondrocytes harvested from a detached osteochondral fragment to proliferate and to serve as a source of viable cells for ACI in the repair of ankle cartilage defects.
Methods: Detached osteochondral fragments harvested from the ankle joint of 20 patients with osteochondral lesions of the talus served as the source of human articular cartilage specimens. All of the osteochondral lesions were chronic and of traumatic origin. In all cases, the fragments were utilized to evaluate the viability and proliferation of the cells, the histological appearance of the cartilage tissue and the expression of specific cartilage markers by real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In the 16 patients scheduled for ACI, the expanded chondrocytes were used for chondrocyte implantation. In the other 4 patients, with lesion size <1.5cm(2), microfractures were created during the initial arthroscopic step. As a control group, 7 patients with comparable osteochondral lesions underwent the same surgery, but received chondrocytes harvested from the ipsilateral knee.
Results: According to the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Scoring (AOFAS) system, patients in the experimental group had a preoperative score of 54.2+/-16 points and a postoperative one of 89+/-9.6 points after a minimum follow-up time of 12 months (P<0.0005). The control group of patients had a preoperative score of 54.6+/-11.7 points and a postoperative one of 90.2+/-9.7 points at a minimum follow-up time of 12 months (P<0.0005). The clinical results of the two groups did not differ significantly from each other. Chondrocytes isolated from the detached fragments were highly viable, phenotypically stable, proliferated in culture and redifferentiated when grown within the three-dimensional scaffold used for ACI. The morphological and molecular characteristics of the cartilage samples obtained from the detached osteochondral fragments were similar to those of healthy hyaline articular cartilage.
Conclusions: The good results achieved with this strategy indicate that cells derived from the lesioned area may be useful in the treatment of osteochondral defects of the talus.