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Eur Cell Mater. 2010 Oct 5;20:245-59.

Micromass co-culture of human articular chondrocytes and human bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells to investigate stable neocartilage tissue formation in vitro.

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  • 1Osteoarticular Research Group, Institute of Pathology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.


Cell therapies for articular cartilage defects rely on expanded chondrocytes. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) represent an alternative cell source should their hypertrophic differentiation pathway be prevented. Possible cellular instruction between human articular chondrocytes (HAC) and human bone marrow MSC was investigated in micromass pellets. HAC and MSC were mixed in different percentages or incubated individually in pellets for 3 or 6 weeks with and without TGF-beta1 and dexamethasone (±T±D) as chondrogenic factors. Collagen II, collagen X and S100 protein expression were assessed using immunohistochemistry. Proteoglycan synthesis was evaluated applying the Bern score and quantified using dimethylmethylene blue dye binding assay. Alkaline phosphatase activity (ALP) was detected on cryosections and soluble ALP measured in pellet supernatants. HAC alone generated hyaline-like discs, while MSC formed spheroid pellets in ±T±D. Co-cultured pellets changed from disc to spheroid shape with decreasing number of HAC, and displayed random cell distribution. In -T-D, HAC expressed S100, produced GAG and collagen II, and formed lacunae, while MSC did not produce any cartilage-specific proteins. Based on GAG, collagen type II and S100 expression chondrogenic differentiation occurred in -T-D MSC co-cultures. However, quantitative experimental GAG and DNA values did not differ from predicted values, suggesting only HAC contribution to GAG production. MSC produced cartilage-specific matrix only in +T+D but underwent hypertrophy in all pellet cultures. In summary, influence of HAC on MSC was restricted to early signs of neochondrogenesis. However, MSC did not contribute to the proteoglycan deposition, and HAC could not prevent hypertrophy of MSC induced by chondrogenic stimuli.

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