In vitro cultivation of adult human chondrocytes : importance of culture system, oxygen and zonal differences

Schrobback, Karsten (2010) In vitro cultivation of adult human chondrocytes : importance of culture system, oxygen and zonal differences. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Articular cartilage exhibits limited intrinsic regenerative capacity and focal tissue defects can lead to the development of osteoarthritis (OA), a painful and debilitating loss of cartilage tissue. In Australia, 1.4 million people are affected by OA and its prevalence is increasing in line with current demographics. As treatment options are limited, new therapeutic approaches are being investigated including biological resurfacing of joints with tissue-engineered cartilage. Despite some progress in the field, major challenges remain to be addressed for large scale clinical success. For example, large numbers of chondrogenic cells are required for cartilage formation, but chondrocytes lose their chondrogenic phenotype (dedifferentiate) during in vitro propagation. Additionally, the zonal organization of articular cartilage is critical for normal cartilage function, but development of zonal structure has been largely neglected in cartilage repair strategies. Therefore, we hypothesised that culture conditions for freshly isolated human articular chondrocytes from non-OA and OA sources can be improved by employing microcarrier cultures and a reduced oxygen environment and that oxygen is a critical factor in the maintenance of the zonal chondrocyte phenotype. Microcarriers have successfully been used to cultivate bovine chondrocytes, and offer a potential alternative for clinical expansion of human chondrocytes. We hypothesised that improved yields can be achieved by propagating human chondrocytes on microcarriers. We found that cells on microcarriers acquired a flattened, polygonal morphology and initially proliferated faster than monolayercultivated cells. However, microcarrier cultivation over four weeks did not improve growth rates or the chondrogenic potential of non-OA and OA human articular chondrocytes over conventional monolayer cultivation. Based on these observations, we aimed to optimise culture conditions by modifying oxygen tension, to more closely reflect the in vivo environment. We found that propagation at 5% oxygen tension (moderate hypoxia) did not improve proliferation or redifferentiation capacity of human osteoarthritic chondrocytes. Moderate hypoxia increased the expression of chondrogenic markers during redifferentiation. However, osteoarthritic chondrocytes cultivated on microcarriers exhibited lower expression levels of chondrogenic surface marker proteins and had at best equivalent redifferentiation capacities compared to monolayer-cultured cells. This suggests that monolayer culture with multiple passaging potentially selects for a subpopulation of cells with higher differentiation capacity, which are otherwise rare in osteoarthritic, aged cartilage. However, fibroblastic proteins were found to be highly expressed in all cultures of human osteoarthritic chondrocytes indicating the presence of a high proportion of dedifferentiated, senescent cells with a chondrocytic phenotype that was not rescued by moderate hypoxia. The different zones of cartilage support chondrocyte subpopulations, which exhibit characteristic protein expression and experience varying oxygen tensions. We, therefore, hypothesised that oxygen tension affects the zonal marker expression of human articular chondrocytes isolated from the different cartilage layers. We found that zonal chondrocytes maintained these phenotypic differences during in vitro cultivation. Low oxygen environments favoured the expression of the zonal marker proteoglycan 4 in superficial cells, most likely through the promotion of chondrogenesis. The putative zonal markers clusterin and cartilage intermediate layer protein were found to be expressed by all subpopulations of human osteoarthritic chondrocytes ex vivo and, thus, may not be reliable predictors of in vitro stratification using these clinically relevant cells. The findings in this thesis underline the importance of considering low oxygen conditions and zonal stratification when creating native-like cartilaginous constructs. We have not yet found the right cues to successfully cultivate clinically-relevant human osteoarthritic chondrocytes in vitro. A more thorough understanding of chondrocyte biology and the processes of chondrogenesis are required to ensure the clinical success of cartilage tissue engineering.

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ID Code: 33227
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Leavesley, David, Klein, Travis, Malda, Johannes, & Upton, Zee
Keywords: Chondrocytes, in vitro cultivation, articular cartilage, regeneration
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 22 Jul 2010 05:37
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:56

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