Matrix-assisted chondrocyte transplantation (m-ACI) still lacks any standardization in its execution in terms of cell passage (P), cell yield (C) and in vitro membrane-holding time (T). It was the goal of this study to analyze the effect of shifting cell culture parameters (P, C, T) on the in vitro as well as in vivo effort of a regulated animal m-ACI. Autologous rabbit knee articular chondrocytes were seeded within bilayer collagen I/III 3-D matrices in variation of P, C and T. Each time, 2 PCT-identical by 2 PCT-identical cell-matrix-constructs (CMC)/animal were created. Simultaneously 2 (PCT-distinct) were re-implanted (CMC-e) autologous into artificial trochlear pristine chondral defects in vivo to remain for 12 weeks while the remaining 2 were harvested (CMC-i) for immediate in vitro analysis at the time of transplantation of their identical twins. mRNA of both, CMC-e regenerates and CMC-i membranes, was analyzed for Collagen-1,-2,-10, COMP, Aggrecan, Sox9 expression by use of a mixed linear model, multiple regression analysis. Generally, CMC-i values were higher than CMC-e values for differentiation targets; the opposite was true for dedifferentiation targets. Regarding individual gene expression, in vivo regenerate cell-matrix properties were significantly dependent on initial cell-matrix in vitro values as a sign of linearity. The parameter membrane-holding time (T) had strongest effects on the resulting mRNA expression with slightly less impact of the parameter passage (P), whereas cell yield (C) had clearly less effects. Noting differences between in vitro and in vivo data, in general, optimal expression patterns concerning chondrogenic differentiation were achieved by few passages, medium cellular yield, short membrane-holding time. Clinical m-ACI may benefit from optimal orchestration of the cell culture parameters passage, yield and time.
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