• tissue engineering;
  • cartilage;
  • autologous chondrocyte transplantation;
  • in vitro;
  • three-dimensional


A challenge in tissue engineering is the in vitro generation of human cartilage. To meet standards for in vitro-engineered cartilage, such as prevention of immune response and structural as well as functional integration to surrounding tissue, we established a three-dimensional cell culture system without adding exogenous growth factors or scaffolds. Human chondrocytes were cultured as spheroids. Tissue morphology and protein expression was analyzed using histological and immunohistochemical investigations on spheroid cryosections. A cartilage-like tissue similar to naturally occurring cartilage was generated when spheroids were cultured in medium supplemented only with human serum. This in vitro tissue was characterized by the synthesis of the hyaline-specific proteins collagen type II and S-100, as well as the synthesis of hyaline-specific mucopolysaccharides that increased with prolonged culture time. After 3 months, cell number in the interior of in vitro tissues was diminished and was only twice as much as in native cartilage. Additionally, spheroids quickly adhered to and migrated on glass slides and on human condyle cartilage. The addition of antibiotics to autologous spheroid cultures inhibited the synthesis of matrix proteins. Remarkably, replacing human serum by fetal calf serum resulted in the destruction of the inner part of the spheroids and only a viable rim of cells remained on the surface. These results show that the spheroid culture allows for the first time the autogenous in vitro engineering of human cartilage-like tissue where medium supplements were restricted to human serum.