Treatment of cartilage defects is still challenging, primarily because of the poor self-healing capacity of articular cartilage. Gene therapy approaches have gained considerable attention, but, depending on the vector system used, they can lead to either limited or unrestrained gene expression, and therefore regulation of gene expression is necessary. This study was undertaken to construct an efficient tetracycline (Tet)–regulated, lentivirally mediated system for the expression of growth factor bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP-2) in primary rabbit chondrocytes that will allow for the induction and termination of growth factor gene expression once cartilage regeneration is complete.


Chondrogenic ATDC5 cells and primary rabbit chondrocytes were lentivirally transduced with different tetracycline-on (Tet-On)–regulated, self-inactivating vectors for the induction of expression of enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) or BMP-2, using either a 1-vector system or a 2-vector system.


Expression of eGFP was induced on ATDC5 cells and chondrocytes. The highest induction rate and highest level of gene expression were reached when the spleen focus-forming virus long terminal repeat promoter was used to drive the reverse transactivator expression, after the addition of doxycycline, in chondrocytes. An up to 20-fold induction of Tet-mediated BMP-2 expression was observed on ATDC5 cells. The extent of induction and expression level of BMP-2 in chondrocytes were similar between the 1-vector system– and 2-vector system–infected cells (mean ± SD 15.5 ± 1.1 ng/ml and 14.6 ± 0.4 ng/ml, respectively). In addition, prolonged induction and switching-off of BMP-2 expression, as well as repeated induction, were demonstrated. Production of proteoglycans, as shown by Alcian blue staining, demonstrated the functionality of the lentivirally expressed BMP-2 under induced conditions.


The lentivirally mediated Tet-On system is an effective strategy for efficient, repeatedly inducible expression of BMP-2 in primary rabbit chondrocytes. Therefore, use of this system in in vivo experiments may be a promising approach as a treatment strategy for cartilage defects.