Human Osteoarthritic Chondrons Outnumber Patient- And Joint-Matched Chondrocytes in Hydrogel culture-Future Application in Autologous Cell-Based OA Cartilage Repair?

J Tissue Eng Regen Med. 2018 Feb;12(2):e1206-e1220. doi: 10.1002/term.2516. Epub 2017 Nov 8.


Autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI) is used in 34-60% for osteoarthritic (OA) cartilage defects, although ACI is neither recommended nor designed for OA. Envisioning a hydrogel-based ACI for OA that uses chondrons instead of classically used chondrocytes, we hypothesized that human OA chondrons may outperform OA chondrocytes. We compared patient- and joint surface-matched human OA chondrons with OA chondrocytes cultured for the first time in a hydrogel, using a self-assembling peptide system. We determined yield, viability, cell numbers, mRNA expression, GAPDH mRNA enzyme activity, Collagen II synthesis (CPII) and degradation (C2C), and sulfated glycosaminoglycan. Ex vivo, mRNA expression was comparable. Over time, significant differences in survival led to 3.4-fold higher OA chondron numbers in hydrogels after 2 weeks (p = .002). Significantly, more enzymatically active GAPDH protein indicated higher metabolic activity. The number of cultures that expressed mRNA for Collagen Types I and VI, COMP, aggrecan, VEGF, TGF-β1, and FGF-2 (but not Collagen Types II and X) was different, resulting in a 3.5-fold higher number of expression-positive OA chondron cultures (p < .05). Measuring CPII and C2C per hydrogel, OA chondron hydrogels synthesized more than they degraded Collagen Type II, the opposite was true for OA chondrocytes. Per cell, OA chondrons but not OA chondrocytes displayed more synthesis than degradation. Thus, OA chondrons displayed superior biosynthesis and mRNA expression of tissue engineering and phenotype-relevant genes. Moreover, human OA chondrons displayed a significant survival advantage in hydrogel culture, whose presence, drastic extent, and timescale was novel and is clinically significant. Collectively, these data highlight the high potential of human OA chondrons for OA ACI, as they would outnumber and, thus, surpass OA chondrocytes.

Keywords: biosynthesis; chondrocyte; chondron; human osteoarthritis; pericellular matrix; survival.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cartilage, Articular / pathology*
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chondrocytes / drug effects
  • Chondrocytes / transplantation*
  • Chondrocytes / ultrastructure
  • Collagen Type II / metabolism
  • Epitopes / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Glyceraldehyde-3-Phosphate Dehydrogenase (Phosphorylating) / metabolism
  • Glycosaminoglycans / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogels / pharmacology*
  • Joints / pathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis / pathology*
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Transplantation, Autologous
  • Wound Healing / drug effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Collagen Type II
  • Epitopes
  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Hydrogels
  • Peptides
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Glyceraldehyde-3-Phosphate Dehydrogenase (Phosphorylating)