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British Orthopaedic Research Society (BORS)


Saline (0.9%) is typically used to rinse joints during osteo-articular surgery. It is not unusual for cartilage to then be exposed to the air of the operating theatre for 1-2hrs, which can lead to chondrocyte death. We have compared the survival of in situ chondrocytes within bovine cartilage which has been rinsed in various solutions or simply drained of synovial fluid (SF) and then allowed to dry, to identify approaches that could reduce chondrocyte death arising from cartilage drying.

Metacarpophalangeal joints from 3yr-old cows were opened under aseptic conditions. The joints were then (a) rinsed with saline (Baxter's Healthcare, Newbury), (b) rinsed with saline+glucose (20mM; both 300mOsm) or (c) drained of SF, and allowed to dry at room temperature. Full depth cartilage explants were taken after 2hrs, placed into Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium and incubated with CMFDA (5-chloromethyl-fluorescein diacetate; 10microM) and propidium iodide (10microM) for the identification/quantification of living and dead cells respectively by confocal scanning laser microscopy and image analysis.

After 2hrs, the appearance and properties of the cartilage of the drying joints were clearly different. Saline-rinsed cartilage was dark purple and appeared dull with the cartilage difficult to sample. However when the rinsing solution was saline+glucose, or when joints were drained of SF, the cartilage was almost identical to the freshly-opened joint with a pearly-blue, shiny appearance, and cartilage sampling was easy.

Chondrocyte death was markedly increased in saline rinsed/dried joints after 2hrs (21±9% cell death). In contrast, there was no significant (P>0.05) death in saline+glucose rinsed/dried (2±1%) or SF-drained joints (3±2%;means±s.e.m.;n=5). The loss of cartilage wet weight over 2hrs (time=0 taken as 100%) was almost identical between cartilage rinsed in saline (73.6±1.6%), saline + glucose (78.6±1.1%) or SF (75.0±0.2%; data means±s.d.;n=2).

These results suggest that it was not the loss of water per se during cartilage drying that was the key determinant of chondrocyte viability. As chondrocytes are normally anaerobic, the rise in cartilage pO2 which occurs during exposure to air could have a deleterious effect on cell viability however the presence of glucose or SF protects through an anti-oxidant effect.