Redifferentiation of dedifferentiated human articular chondrocytes: comparison of 2D and 3D cultures

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Objective: Three-dimensional (3D) cultures are widely used to redifferentiate chondrocytes. However, the rationale behind the choice for 3D above two-dimensional (2D) cultures is poorly systematically investigated and mainly based on mRNA expression and glycosaminoglycan (GAG) content. The objective was to determine the differential redifferentiation characteristics of human articular chondrocytes (HACs) in monolayer, alginate beads and pellet culture by investigating mRNA expression, protein expression, GAG content and cell proliferation. Design: Dedifferentiated HACs from six individuals were redifferentiated in identical medium conditions for 7 days in monolayer, alginate beads or pellet culture. Read-out parameters were expression of chondrogenic and hypertrophic mRNAs and proteins, GAG content and cell proliferation. Results: 3D cultures specifically expressed chondrogenic mRNAs [collagen type II (COL2A1), SRY (sex determining region Y)-box 9 (SOX9), aggrecan (ACAN)), whereas 2D cultures did not. Hypertrophic mRNAs (collagen type X (COL10A1), runt-related transcription factor 2 (RUNX2), matrix metalloproteinase 13 (MMP13), vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA), osteopontin (OPN), alkaline phosphatase (ALP)) were highly increased in 2D cultures and lower in 3D cultures. Collagen type I (COL1A1) mRNA expression was highest in 3D cultures. Protein expression supports most of the mRNA data, although an important discrepancy was found between mRNA and protein expression of COL2A1 and SOX9 in monolayer culture, stressing on the importance of protein expression analysis. GAG content was highest in 3D cultures, whereas chondrocyte proliferation was almost specific for 2D cultures. Conclusions: For redifferentiation of dedifferentiated HACs, 3D cultures exhibit the most potent chondrogenic potential, whereas a hypertrophic phenotype is best achieved in 2D cultures. This is the first human study that systematically evaluates the differences between proliferation, GAG content, protein expression and mRNA expression of commonly used 2D and 3D chondrocyte culture techniques.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1170-1178
JournalOsteoarthritis and Cartilage
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


  • Dedifferentiated human articular chondrocyte
  • Chondrogenic redifferentiation
  • Alginate culture
  • Pellet culture
  • Monolayer culture
  • Protein expression


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