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Transplantation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) derived from synovium is a promising therapy for cartilage regeneration. For clinical application, improvement of handling operation, enhancement of chondrogenic potential, and increase of MSCs adhesion efficiency are needed to achieve a more successful cartilage regeneration with a limited number of MSCs without scaffold. The use of aggregated MSCs may be one of the solutions. Here, we investigated the handling, properties and effectiveness of aggregated MSCs for cartilage regeneration.
Human and rabbit synovial MSCs were aggregated using the hanging drop technique. The gene expression changes after aggregation of synovial MSCs were analyzed by microarray and real time RT-PCR analyses. In vitro and in vivo chondrogenic potential of aggregates of synovial MSCs was examined.
Aggregates of MSCs cultured for three days became visible, approximately 1 mm in diameter and solid and durable by manipulation; most of the cells were viable. Microarray analysis revealed up-regulation of chondrogenesis-related, anti-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic genes in aggregates of MSCs. In vitro studies showed higher amounts of cartilage matrix synthesis in pellets derived from aggregates of MSCs compared to pellets derived from MSCs cultured in a monolayer. In in vivo studies in rabbits, aggregates of MSCs could adhere promptly on the osteochondral defects by surface tension, and stay without any loss. Transplantation of aggregates of MSCs at relatively low density achieved successful cartilage regeneration. Contrary to our expectation, transplantation of aggregates of MSCs at high density failed to regenerate cartilage due to cell death and nutrient deprivation of aggregates of MSCs.
Aggregated synovial MSCs were a useful source for cartilage regeneration considering such factors as easy preparation, higher chondrogenic potential and efficient attachment.