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Am J Sports Med. 2010 Sep;38(9):1857-69. doi: 10.1177/0363546510365296. Epub 2010 May 27.

Repair of chronic osteochondral defects using predifferentiated mesenchymal stem cells in an ovine model.

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  • 1Department of Cell Techniques and Applied Stem Cell Biology, Center of Biotechnology and Biomedicine, University of Leipzig, Deutscher Platz 5, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany. Matthias.Zscharnack@bbz.uni-leipzig.de



The use of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to treat osteochondral defects caused by sports injuries or disease is of particular interest. However, there is a lack of studies in large-animal models examining the benefits of chondrogenic predifferentiation in vitro for repair of chronic osteochondral defects.


Chondrogenic in vitro predifferentiation of autologous MSCs embedded in a collagen I hydrogel currently in clinical trial use for matrix-associated autologous chondrocyte transplantation facilitates the regeneration of a chronic osteochondral defect in an ovine stifle joint.


Controlled laboratory study.


The optimal predifferentiation period of ovine MSCs within the type I collagen hydrogel in vitro was defined by assessment of several cellular and molecular biological parameters. For the animal study, osteochondral lesions (diameter 7 mm) were created at the medial femoral condyles of the hind legs in 10 merino sheep. To achieve a chronic defect model, implantation of the ovine MSCs/hydrogel constructs was not performed until 6 weeks after defect creation. The 40 defects were divided into 4 treatment groups: (1) chondrogenically predifferentiated ovine MSC/hydrogel constructs (preMSC-gels), (2) undifferentiated ovine MSC/hydrogel constructs (unMSC-gels), (3) cell-free collagen hydrogels (CF-gels), and (4) untreated controls (UCs). Evaluation followed after 6 months.


With regard to proteoglycan content, cell count, gel contraction, apoptosis, compressive properties, and progress of chondrogenic differentiation, a differentiation period of 14 days in vitro was considered optimal. After 6 months in vivo, the defects treated with preMSC-gels showed significantly better histologic scores with morphologic characteristics of hyaline cartilage such as columnarization and presence of collagen type II.


Matrix-associated autologous chondrocyte transplantation with predifferentiated MSCs may be a promising approach for repair of focal, chronic osteochondral defects.


The results suggest an encouraging method for future treatment of focal osteochondral defects to prevent progression to osteoarthritis.

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