Allogeneic cell therapies, such as mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC), which have potent regenerative and anti-inflammatory potential are being investigated as a therapy for osteoarthritis and cartilage injury. Here we describe another potential source of regenerative and anti-inflammatory allogeneic cells, culture expanded primary chondrocytes (CEPC). In direct comparison to allogeneic MSC, we extensively assess the immunological interactions of CEPC in an allogeneic setting.
Chondrocytes were isolated from rat articular cartilage and cultured in normoxic or hypoxic conditions. In vitro co-culture assays with allogeneic lymphocytes and macrophages were used to assess the immunomodulatory capacities of the chondrocytes, followed by immune response analysis by flow cytometry, ELISA and qPCR.
CEPC showed reduced induction of proliferation, activation and cytotoxic granzyme-B expression in allogeneic T cells. Importantly, exposure to pro-inflammatory cytokines did not increase CEPC immunogenicity despite increases in MHC-I. Furthermore, CEPC had a potent ability to suppress allogeneic T cell proliferation, which was dependent on nitric oxide production. This suppression was contact independent in hypoxia cultured CEPC. Finally, chondrocytes were shown to have the capacity to modulate pro-inflammatory macrophage activity by reducing MHC-II expression and TNF-żż secretion.
These data indicate the potential use of allogeneic chondrocytes in osteoarthritis and cartilage defects. The lack of evident immunogenicity, despite exposure to a pro-inflammatory environment, coupled with the immunomodulatory ability indicates that these cells have the potential to evade the host immune system and suppress inflammation, thus potentially facilitating the resolution of OA induced inflammation and cartilage regeneration..