Ketamine has been used in combination with a variety of other agents for intra-articular analgesia, with promising results. However, although it has been shown to be toxic to various types of cell, there is no available information on the effects of ketamine on chondrocytes.
We conducted a prospective randomised controlled study to evaluate the effects of ketamine on cultured chondrocytes isolated from rat articular cartilage. The cultured cells were treated with 0.125 mM, 0.250 mM, 0.5 mM, 1 mM and 2 mM of ketamine respectively for 6 h, 24 hours and 48 hours, and compared with controls. Changes of apoptosis were evaluated using fluorescence microscopy with a 490 nm excitation wavelength. Apoptosis and eventual necrosis were seen at each concentration. The percentage viability of the cells was inversely proportional to both the duration and dose of treatment (p = 0.002 and p = 0.009). Doses of 0.5 mM, 1 mM and 2mM were absolutely toxic.
We concluded that in the absence of solid data to support the efficacy of intra-articular ketamine for the control of pain, and the toxic effects of ketamine on cultured chondrocytes shown by this study, intra-articular ketamine, either alone or in combination with other agents, should not be used to control pain.