Like all mammalian cells, normal adult chondrocytes have a limited replicative life span, which decreases with age. To facilitate the therapeutic use of chondrocytes from older donors, a method is needed to prolong their life span.
We transfected chondrocytes with hTERT or GRP78 and cultured them in a 3-dimensional atelocollagen honeycomb-shaped scaffold with a membrane seal. Then, we measured the amount of nuclear DNA and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and the expression level of type II collagen as markers of cell proliferation and extracellular matrix formation, respectively, in these cultures. In addition, we allografted this tissue-engineered cartilage into osteochondral defects in old rabbits to assess their repair activity in vivo.
Our results showed different degrees of differentiation in terms of GAG content between chondrocytes from old and young rabbits. Chondrocytes that were cotransfected with hTERT and GRP78 showed higher cellular proliferation and expression of type II collagen than those of nontransfected chondrocytes, regardless of the age of the cartilage donor. In addition, the in vitro growth rates of hTERT- or GRP78-transfected chondrocytes were higher than those of nontransfected chondrocytes, regardless of donor age. In vivo, the tissue-engineered cartilage implants exhibited strong repairing activity, maintained a chondrocyte-specific phenotype, and produced extracellular matrix components.
Focal gene delivery to aged articular chondrocytes exhibited strong repairing activity and may be therapeutically useful for articular cartilage regeneration.