Enzymatic Isolation of Articular Chondrons: Is It Much Different Than That of Chondrocytes?

Marloes van Mourik, Gerke H. Schuiringa, Liesbeth P. Varion-Verhagen, Lucienne A. Vonk, Corrinus C. van Donkelaar, Keita Ito, and Jasper Foolen

Published: 1 January 2023


In native articular cartilage, chondrocytes (Chy) are completely capsulated by a pericellular matrix (PCM), together called the chondron (Chn). Due to its unique properties (w.r.t. territorial matrix) and importance in mechanotransduction, the PCM and Chn may be important in regenerative strategies. The current gold standard for the isolation of Chns from cartilage dates from 1997. Although previous research already showed the low cell yield and the heterogeneity of the isolated populations, their compositions and properties have never been thoroughly characterized. This study aimed to compare enzymatic isolation methods for Chy and Chns and characterizes the isolation efficiency and quality of the PCM. Bovine articular cartilage was digested according to the 5-h (5H) gold standard Chn isolation method (0.3% dispase +0.2% collagenase II), an overnight (ON) Chn isolation (0.15% dispase +0.1% collagenase II), and an ON Chy isolation (0.15% collagenase II +0.01% hyaluronidase). Type VI collagen staining, fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) analysis, specific cell sorting, and immunohistochemistry were performed using a type VI collagen staining, to study their isolation efficiency and quality of the PCM. These analyses showed a heterogeneous mixture of Chy and Chns for all three methods. Although the 5H Chn isolation resulted in the highest percentage of Chns, the cell yield was significantly lower compared to the other isolation methods. FACS, based on the type VI collagen staining, successfully sorted the three identified cell populations. To maximize Chn yield and homogeneity, the ON Chn enzymatic digestion method should be combined with type VI collagen staining and specific cell sorting.

Full Access Link: Tissue engineering. Part C, Methods