Chondrocyte death in articular cartilage wound edges and the subsequent lack of matrix-producing cells in the interface area are considered to be a major cause of impaired cartilage wound healing and poor integrative cartilage repair. This study was undertaken to investigate whether enzymatic matrix digestion can be used to stimulate integrative cartilage repair via a mechanism of local increase in the amount of vital chondrocytes in cartilage wound edges.
Full-thickness bovine articular cartilage samples were cultured in vitro for 14 days in standard medium. Samples were either left untreated or treated for 48 hours with 0.3% hyaluronidase or 30 units/ml highly purified collagenase VII. Nuclear and cytoplasmic changes were analyzed to determine cell viability, and the number of vital chondrocytes in wound edges was determined. Subsequently, we investigated whether increased chondrocyte density in the lesion edges resulted in better wound healing. Finally, full-thickness human tibial plateau cartilage explants were tested with similar enzyme treatment protocols to determine the clinical value of our results.
In bovine explants a rapid onset of chondrocyte death was observed in wound edges in all treatment groups. This led to low chondrocyte density in a band of 0-150 microm from the lesion edges in untreated and hyaluronidase-treated explants. Treatment with 30 units/ml collagenase resulted in a significant increase in chondrocyte density in this area. The integration experiments demonstrated improved integration of the lesion edges after treatment with collagenase. In human articular cartilage an increase in chondrocyte density at the lesion edges could also be achieved, but only when proteoglycans were depleted from the wound edges prior to collagenase treatment.
Treatment with highly purified collagenase improves integrative cartilage repair, possibly by increasing the cell density at cartilage wound edges.
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