Tissue engineering approaches often require expansion of cell numbers in vitro to accelerate tissue regenerative processes. Although several studies have used this technique for therapeutic purposes, a major concern involving the use of isolated chondrocyte culture is the reduction of extracellular matrix (ECM) protein expressed due to the transfer of cells from the normal physiological milieu to the artificial 2D environment provided by the cell culture flasks. To overcome this issue, the use of alginate hydrogel beads as a substrate in chondrocyte cultures has been suggested. However, the resultant characteristics of cells embedded in this bead is elusive. To elucidate this, a study using chondrocytes isolated from rabbit knee articular cartilage expanded in vitro as monolayer and chondrocyte-alginate constructs was conducted. Immunohistochemical evaluation and ECM distribution was examined with or without transforming growth factor (TGF-β1) supplement to determine the ability of cells to express major chondrogenic proteins in these environments. Histological examination followed by transmission electron microscopy and scanning electron microscopy was performed to determine the morphology and the ultrastructural characteristics of these cells. Results demonstrated a significant increase in glycosaminoglycan/mg protein levels in chondrocyte cultures grown in alginate construct than in monolayer cultures. In addition, an abundance of ECM protein distribution surrounding chondrocytes cultured in alginate hydrogel was observed. In conclusion, the current study demonstrates that the use of alginate hydrogel beads in chondrocyte cultures with or without TGF-β1 supplement provided superior ECM expression than monolayer cultures.
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