Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) has gained growing popularity in the treatment of articular cartilage lesions in the last decade. However, the potential harmful effects of leukocytes in PRP on cartilage regeneration have seldom been studied in vitro, and not at all in vivo yet. The objective of the present study is to compare the effects of leukocyte- and platelet-rich plasma (L-PRP) and pure platelet-rich plasma (P-PRP) on cartilage repair and NF-κB pathway, in order to explore the mechanism underlying the function of leukocytes in PRP in cartilage regeneration. The constituent analysis showed that P-PRP had significantly lower concentrations of leukocytes and pro-inflammatory cytokines compared with L-PRP. In addition, cell proliferation and differentiation assays indicated P-PRP promoted growth and chondrogenesis of rabbit bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (rBMSC) significantly compared with L-PRP. Despite similarity in macroscopic appearance, the implantation of P-PRP combining rBMSC in vivo yielded better cartilage repair results than the L-PRP group based on histological examination. Importantly, the therapeutic effects of PRP on cartilage regeneration could be enhanced by removing leukocytes to avoid the activation of the NF-κB pathway. Thus, PRP without concentrated leukocytes may be more suitable for the treatment of articular cartilage lesions.