The repair process of a full-thickness osteochondral defect was observed in a rat model using Hoechst 33342 as a cell tracer. The osteochondral defect was created at the medial femoral condyle of the right knee joints of twelve 11-week-old male rats. Three weeks after the surgery, Hoechst 33342 was injected into the same knee joints. Calcein, a marker of the mineralization front, was then injected subcutaneousely twice at seven days and one day before harvesting of the tissue. At six, ten, and fourteen weeks and one year after the surgery, femoral condyles were obtained from the operated knee joints, fixed by alcohol, and embedded in polymethylmethacrylate. The sections were examined by fluorescent and then light microscopy. In the lateral femoral condyle cartilage, Hoechst 33342 labeling of chondrocyte nuclei was observed in all layers of the intact cartilage, and the dye never infiltrated beneath the subchondral bone plate. At 6 weeks after the surgery, Hoechst 33342-positive cells were observed not only in the regenerated fibrous cartilage, but also in the newly formed mineralized tissue in the medial femoral condyle. Interestingly, Hoechst 33342 labeling remained undiminished even one year after the intraarticular injection. The findings of the present study suggest that intra-articular injection of Hoechst 33342 is a useful tracer for long-term investigations of chondrocyte differentiation in vivo.
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