Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) provide an important source of pluripotent cells for musculoskeletal tissue repair. This study examined the impact of MSC implantation on cartilage healing characteristics in a large animal model. Twelve full-thickness 15-mm cartilage lesions in the femoropatellar articulations of six young mature horses were repaired by injection of a self-polymerizing autogenous fibrin vehicle containing mesenchymal stem cells, or autogenous fibrin alone in control joints. Arthroscopic second look and defect biopsy was obtained at 30 days, and all animals were euthanized 8 months after repair. Cartilage repair tissue and surrounding cartilage were assessed by histology, histochemistry, collagen type I and type II immunohistochemistry, collagen type II in situ hybridization, and matrix biochemical assays. Arthroscopic scores for MSC-implanted defects were significantly improved at the 30-day arthroscopic assessment. Biopsy showed MSC-implanted defects contained increased fibrous tissue with several defects containing predominantly type II collagen. Long-term assessment revealed repair tissue filled grafted and control lesions at 8 months, with no significant difference between stem cell-treated and control defects. Collagen type II and proteoglycan content in MSC-implanted and control defects were similar. Mesenchymal stem cell grafts improved the early healing response, but did not significantly enhance the long-term histologic appearance or biochemical composition of full-thickness cartilage lesions.
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