Background: This study aimed to determine whether intra-articularly injected adipose-derived stem cells (ADSCs) inhibited articular cartilage degeneration during osteoarthritis (OA) development in a rabbit anterior cruciate ligament transection (ACLT) model. The paracrine effects of ADSCs on chondrocytes were investigated using a co-culture system.
Methods: ACLT was performed on both knee joints of 12 rabbits. ADSCs were isolated from the subcutaneous adipose tissue. ADSCs with hyaluronic acid were intra-articularly injected into the left knee, and hyaluronic acid was injected into the right knee. The knees were compared macroscopically, histologically, and immunohistochemically at 8 and 12 weeks. In addition, cell viability was determined using co-culture system of ADSCs and chondrocytes.
Results: Macroscopically, osteoarthritis progression was milder in the ADSC-treated knees than in the control knees 8 weeks after ACLT. Histologically, control knees showed obvious erosions in both the medial and lateral condyles at 8 weeks, while cartilage was predominantly retained in the ADSC-treated knees. At 12 weeks, the ADSC-treated knees showed a slight suppression of cartilage degeneration, unlike the control knees. Immunohistochemically, MMP-13 expression was less in the ADSC-treated cartilage than in the control knees. The cell viability of chondrocytes co-cultured with ADSCs was higher than that of chondrocytes cultured alone. TNF-alpha-induced apoptotic stimulation was similar between the two groups.
Conclusions: Intra-articularly injected ADSCs inhibited cartilage degeneration progression by homing to the synovium and secreting a liquid factor having chondro-protective effects such as chondrocyte proliferation and cartilage matrix protection.