Articular cartilage has a limited capacity for repair. In recent clinical and animal experiments, investigators have attempted to elicit the repair of defects of articular cartilage by injecting cultured autologous chondrocytes under a periosteal flap (a layer of periosteum). The objective of the present study was to determine the effect of cultured autologous chondrocytes on healing in an adult canine model with use of histomorphometric methods to assess the degree of repair.A total of forty-four four-millimeter-diameter circular defects were created down to the zone of calcified cartilage in the articular cartilage of the trochlear groove of the distal part of the femur in fourteen dogs. The morphology and characteristics of the original defects were defined in an additional six freshly created defects in three other dogs. Some residual non-calcified articular cartilage, occupying approximately 2 per cent of the total cross-sectional area of the defect, was sometimes left in the defect. The procedure sometimes damaged the calcified cartilage, resulting in occasional microfractures or larger fractures, thinning of the zone of calcified cartilage, or, rarely, small localized penetrations into subchondral bone.The forty-four defects were divided into three treatment groups. In one group, cultured autologous chondrocytes were implanted under a periosteal flap. In the second group, the defect was covered with a periosteal flap but no autologous chondrocytes were implanted. In the third group (the control group), the defects were left empty.The defects were analyzed after twelve or eighteen months of healing. Histomorphometric measurements were made of the percentage of the total area of the defect that became filled with repair tissue, the types of tissue that filled the defect, and the integration of the repair tissue with the adjacent cartilage at the sides of the defects and with the calcified cartilage at the base of the defect. In histological sections made through the center of the defects in the three groups, the area of the defect that filled with new repair tissue ranged from a mean total value of 36 to 76 per cent, with 10 to 23 per cent of the total area consisting of hyaline cartilage. Integration of the repair tissue with the adjacent cartilage at the edges of the defect ranged from 16 to 32 per cent in the three groups. Bonding between the repair tissue and the calcified cartilage at the base of the defect ranged from 41 to 89 per cent.With the numbers available, we could detect no significant difference among the three groups with regard to any of the parameters used to assess the quality of the repair. In the two groups in which a periosteal flap was sutured to the articular cartilage surrounding the defect, the articular cartilage showed degenerative changes that appeared to be related to that suturing.CLINICAL RELEVANCE: The technique of injecting cultured autologous chondrocytes under a periosteal flap recently was introduced to treat defects in the articular cartilage of humans. The long-term efficacy of this treatment is unknown. An animal model was developed to evaluate the procedure and its effectiveness.