Chondrocytes have been demonstrated to be sensitive to mechanical stimuli, such as compression, tension, shear force, and hydrostatic pressure. The responses of chondrocytes to mechanical compression have been often studied in vitro with cartilage and chondrocyte/hydrogel systems. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of dynamic compression on gene expression of rabbit chondrocytes which were seeded in elastic polyurethane scaffolds with or without collagen gel encapsulation. Dynamic compression of 20% or 30% strain with 0.1 Hz frequency was applied to the cell-seeded scaffolds for 4, 8, 12, or 24 h, and then the expression of the three genes related to chondrogenic phenotype, type I and II collagens and aggrecan, was analyzed by RT-PCR. We also investigated the gene expression of the compressed chondrocytes, which had experienced 12-h 30% strain dynamic loading, during the post-compression resting period. We found that the expression of type II collagen did not seem to respond to cyclic compression. On the other hand, aggrecan gene was stimulated by dynamic compression. The stimulatory effect disappeared gradually after the dynamic compression was ceased. Furthermore, the mechano-response of the chondrocytes to aggrecan expression was delayed by collagen gel encapsulation. The expression of type I collagen was enhanced by collagen gel. We found that collagen gel encapsulation prolonged the expression of aggrecan and type I collagen during post-compression resting period. We demonstrated that mechanical and biochemical stimuli modulate the gene expression of chondrocytes.
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