Transplantation of allograft chondrocytes embedded in agarose gel into cartilage defects of rabbits

Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 1998 Jan;6(1):50-65. doi: 10.1053/joca.1997.0092.


Objective: Durable healing of full-thickness articular cartilage defects has been considered for a long time as a highly desirable, but unlikely event to occur. In recent years, conflicting reports on the outcome of in vitro and in vivo studies on chondrocyte and cartilage grafting into animal and human joints have raised new arguments for and against controlled repair of articular cartilage following injury. Some of the problems result from insufficient characterization of implant and repair tissue, and from too short follow up phases. Here we describe a new approach to repair articular cartilage defects in rabbit knees by allografting chondrocytes cultured in agarose gels.

Design: The implants were monitored over 6-18 months and graded histologically, immunohistochemically, and electron microscopically, using a grading scale based on seven evaluation criteria. Control implants of pure agarose produced poor fibrous substitute tissue, insufficient healing and incomplete filling of the cartilage defects. After transplantation of allogenic chondrocytes embedded in agarose, the quality of the newly formed repair cartilage was superior with respect to type II collagen and proteoglycan content and cellular architecture when compared with untreated defects. Superficial fibrillation and degradation were significantly diminished or prevented.

Results: New subchondral bone formed at the level of the previous subchondral bone. In most cases the repair tissue merged with the host articular cartilage; normal calcified cartilage was the only tissue zone that did not participate in the integration of the transplant. By gross evaluation 24% of grafts showed an extent of recovery never observed in controls. The best results were obtained after 18 months when 47% of the grafts (N = 15) developed a morphologically stable hyaline cartilage.

Conclusion: These studies demonstrate that agarose-embedded chondrocyte may prove a valuable tool for controlled repair of articular cartilage defects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agar*
  • Animals
  • Cartilage, Articular / injuries*
  • Cartilage, Articular / ultrastructure
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Chondrocytes / transplantation*
  • Knee Injuries / pathology
  • Knee Injuries / therapy*
  • Rabbits
  • Transplantation, Homologous
  • Wound Healing*


  • Agar