Population doublings and percentage of S100-positive cells as predictors of in vitro chondrogenicity of expanded human articular chondrocytes



The aim of this study was to investigate the interconnection between the processes of proliferation, dedifferentiation, and intrinsic redifferentiation (chondrogenic) capacities of human articular chondrocyte (HAC), and to identify markers linking HAC dedifferentiation status with their chondrogenic potential. Cumulative population doublings (PD) of HAC expanded in monolayer culture were determined, and a threshold range of 3.57–4.19 PD was identified as indicative of HAC loss of intrinsic chondrogenic capacity in pellets incubated without added chondrogenic factors. While several specific gene and surface markers defined early HAC dedifferentiation process, no clear correlation with the loss of intrinsic chondrogenic potential could be established. CD90 expression during HAC monolayer culture revealed two subpopulations, with sorted CD90-negative cells showing lower proliferative capacity and higher chondrogenic potential compared to CD90-positive cells. Although these data further validated PD as critical for in vitro chondrogenesis, due to the early shift in expression, CD90 could not be considered for predicting chondrogenic potential of HAC expanded for several weeks. In contrast, an excellent mathematically modeled correlation was established between PD and the decline of HAC expressing the intracellular marker S100, providing a direct link between the number of cell divisions and dedifferentiation/loss of intrinsic chondrogenic capacity. Based on the dynamics of S100-positive HAC during expansion, we propose asymmetric cell division as a potential mechanism of HAC dedifferentiation, and S100 as a marker to assess chondrogenicity of HAC during expansion, of potential value for cell-based cartilage repair treatments. J. Cell. Physiol. 222: 411–420, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.