Optimal 3D Culture of Primary Articular Chondrocytes for Use in the Rotating Wall Vessel Bioreactor

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Introduction: Reliable culturing methods for primary articular chondrocytes are essential to study the effects of loading and unloading on joint tissue at the cellular level. Due to the limited proliferation capacity of primary chondrocytes and their tendency to dedifferentiate in conventional culture conditions, long-term culturing conditions of primary chondrocytes can be challenging. The goal of this study was to develop a suspension culturing technique that not only would retain the cellular morphology, but also maintain the gene expression characteristics of primary articular chondrocytes. Methods: Three-dimensional culturing methods were compared and optimized for primary articular chondrocytes in the rotating wall vessel bioreactor, which changes the mechanical culture conditions to provide a form of suspension culture optimized for low shear and turbulence. We performed gene expression analysis and morphological characterization of cells cultured in alginate beads, Cytopore-2 microcarriers, primary monolayer culture, and passaged monolayer cultures using reverse transcription-PCR and laser scanning confocal microscopy. Results: Primary chondrocytes grown on Cytopore-2 microcarriers maintained the phenotypical morphology and gene expression pattern observed in primary bovine articular chondrocytes, and retained these characteristics for up to 9 d. Discussion: Our results provide a novel and alternative culturing technique for primary chondrocytes suitable for studies that require suspension such as those using the rotating wall vessel bioreactor. In addition, we provide an alternative culturing technique for primary chondrocytes that can impact future mechanistic studies of osteoarthritis progression, treatments for cartilage damage and repair, and cartilage tissue engineering.