Reserve or Resident Progenitors in Cartilage? Comparative Analysis of Chondrocytes versus Chondroprogenitors and Their Role in Cartilage Repair

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IntroductionArticular cartilage is made up of hyaline tissue embodying chondrocytes, which arise from mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) and specialized extracellular matrix. Despite possessing resident progenitors in and around the joint primed for chondrogenesis, cartilage has limited intrinsic capacity of repair and cell turnover. Advances in isolation, culture, and characterization of these progenitors have raised the possibility for their use in cell-based cartilage repair. Chondroprogenitors (CPCs) have been classified as MSCs and have been postulated to play a vital role in injury response and are identified by their colony forming ability, proliferative potential, telomere dynamics, multipotency, and expression of stem cell markers. The combined presence of CPCs and chondrocytes within the same tissue compartments and the ability of chondrocytes to dedifferentiate and acquire stemness during culture expansion has obscured our ability to define and provide clear-cut differences between these 2 cell populations.ObjectiveThis review aims to evaluate and summarize the available literature on CPCs in terms of their origin, growth kinetics, molecular characteristics, and differential and therapeutic potential with emphasis on their difference from daughter chondrocytes.DesignFor this systematic review, a comprehensive electronic search was performed on PubMed and Google Scholar using relevant terms such as chondrocytes, chondroprogenitors, and surface marker expression.Results and ConclusionOur comparative analysis shows that there is an ill-defined distinction between CPCs and chondrocytes with respect to their cell surface expression (MSC markers and CPC-specific markers) and differentiation potential. Accumulating evidence indicates that the 2 subpopulations may be distinguished based on their growth kinetics and chondrogenic marker.

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