Indications for surgical meniscal repair are limited, and failure rates remain high. Thus, new ways to augment repair and stimulate meniscal regeneration are needed. Mesenchymal stem cells are multipotent cells present in mature individuals and accessible from peripheral connective tissue sites, including synovium. The purpose of this study was to quantitatively evaluate the effect of implantation of synovial tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells on meniscal regeneration in a rabbit model of partial meniscectomy.Methods:
Synovial mesenchymal stem cells were harvested from the knee of one New Zealand White rabbit, expanded in culture, and labeled with a fluorescent marker. A reproducible 1.5-mm cylindrical defect was created in the avascular portion of the anterior horn of the medial meniscus bilaterally in fifteen additional rabbits. Allogenic synovial mesenchymal stem cells suspended in phosphate-buffered saline solution were implanted into the right knees, and phosphate-buffered saline solution alone was placed in the left knees. Meniscal regeneration was evaluated histologically at four, twelve, and twenty-four weeks for (1) quantity and (2) quality (with use of an established three-component scoring system). A similar procedure was performed in four additional rabbits with use of green fluorescent protein-positive synovial mesenchymal stem cells for the purpose of tracking progeny following implantation.Results:
The quantity of regenerated tissue in the group that had implantation of synovial mesenchymal stem cells was greater at all end points, reaching significance at four and twelve weeks (p < 0.05). Tissue quality scores were also superior in knees treated with mesenchymal stem cells compared with controls at all end points, achieving significance at twelve and twenty-four weeks (3.8 versus 2.8 at four weeks [p = 0.29], 5.7 versus 1.7 at twelve weeks [p = 0.008], and 6.0 versus 3.9 at twenty-four weeks [p = 0.021]). Implanted cells adhered to meniscal defects and were observed in the regenerated tissue, where they differentiated into type-I and II collagen-expressing cells, at up to twenty-four weeks.Conclusions:
Synovial mesenchymal stem cells adhere to sites of meniscal injury, differentiate into cells resembling meniscal fibrochondrocytes, and enhance both quality and quantity of meniscal regeneration.Clinical Relevance:
These results may stimulate further exploration into the utility of synovial mesenchymal stem cells in the treatment of meniscal injury in large animals and humans.