Graft Hypertrophy After Third-Generation Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation Has No Correlation With Reduced Cartilage Quality: Matched-Pair Analysis Using T2-Weighted Mapping

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Abstract

Background:

Graft hypertrophy is common after matrix-based autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI) in the knee joint. However, it is not clear whether graft hypertrophy is a complication or an adjustment reaction in the cartilage regeneration after ACI.

Purpose:

To analyze the cartilage quality of the ACI regeneration with graft hypertrophy using T2-weighted mapping.

Study Design:

Cohort study; Level of evidence, 2.

Methods:

A total of 91 patients with isolated cartilage defects (International Cartilage Repair Society [ICRS] grade III-IV) of the knee were treated with Novocart 3D, a third-generation, matrix-based, ACI procedure in the knee joint. All patients were evaluated with a standardized magnetic resonance imaging protocol after 3, 6, 12, 24, 36, and 48 months postoperatively. For morphological and biochemical assessment, the T2-weighted relaxation times of the ACI grafts as well as the healthy surrounding cartilage were determined. The results of the 20 patients with graft hypertrophy (hypertrophic group) were compared with the results of 21 matched patients without graft hypertrophy (nonhypertrophic group) after ACI. Match-paired analysis was performed by comparison of age, defect size, and body mass index.

Results:

The T2-weighted relaxation times of the ACI graft showed significant improvement, with values decreasing from 52.1 milliseconds to 33.3 milliseconds after 48 months. After 12 months, the T2-weighted relaxation times were constant and comparable with the healthy surrounding cartilage. Graft hypertrophy was seen in 22% (n = 20) of the patients who underwent ACI. A significant difference in T2-weighted relaxation times between the hypertrophic and nonhypertrophic ACI grafts could not be found except after 36 months (hypertrophic T2-weighted relaxation time/nonhypertrophic T2-weighted relaxation time: 3 months, 48.0/56.4 ms, P = .666; 6 months, 45.6/42.5 ms, P = .280; 12 months, 39.3/34.7 ms, P = .850; 24 months, 34.8/32.2 ms, P = .742; 36 months, 34.6/38.2 ms, P = .030; 48 months, 34.2/32.3 ms, P = .693).

Conclusion:

The T2-weighted relaxation time of the ACI graft cartilage showed significant improvements over the observation period of 4 years postoperatively. After 2 years, graft maturation was completed. Graft hypertrophy after ACI was seen in 22% of the patients. Reduced cartilage quality could not be found in patients with graft hypertrophy after ACI.

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