The goal of this study was to examine the effects of mechanical compression on chondrocyte biosynthesis of extracellular matrix (ECM) components during culture in a new alginate disk culture system. Specifically, we have examined chondrocyte biosynthesis rates, and the structure of aggrecan core protein species present in the cell-associated matrix (CM), in the further removed matrix (FRM) and in the surrounding culture medium. In this alginate disk culture system, chondrocytes can be subjected to mechanical deformations similar to those experienced in vivo. Our results show that over an 8-week culture period, chondrocytes synthesize a functional ECM and can respond to mechanical forces similarly to chondrocytes maintained in native cartilage. In the alginate disk system, static compression was shown to decrease and dynamic compression to increase synthesis of aggrecan of bovine chondrocytes. Western blot analysis of the core proteins of aggrecan molecules identified a number of different species that were present in different relative amounts in the CM, FRM, and medium. Over 21 days of culture, the predominant form of aggrecan found in the ECM was a full-length link-stabilized species. In addition, our data show that the application of 40 h of static compression caused an increase in the proportion of newly synthesized aggrecan molecules released into the medium. However, this was not accompanied by a significant change in the size and composition of aggrecan and aggrecan fragments in the different compartments, suggesting that mechanical compression did not alter the catabolic pathways. Together, these data show that chondrocyte function is maintained in an alginate disk culture system and that this culture system is a useful model to examine chondrocyte ECM assembly and some aspects of catabolism normally found in vivo.
chondrocyte; alginate; static compression; extracellular matrix; aggrecan