Cell and matrix morpho-functional analysis in chondrocyte micromasses

Michela Battistelli, Rosa Maria Borzì, Eleonora Olivotto, Roberta Vitellozzi, Sabrina Burattini, Andrea Facchini, Elisabetta Falcieri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Micromass cultures represent a convenient means of studying chondrocyte physiology in the context of a tridimensional culture model. In this study, we present the first ultrastructural analysis of the distribution and organization of the extracellular components in micromasses in comparison with their cartilaginous counterparts. Primary chondrocytes obtained from osteoarthritis patients were pelleted in micromasses. Transmission electron microscopy and immunofluorescence were used to evaluate the distribution of major extracellular matrix proteins, i.e., aggrecan, chondroitin-4-sulfate, chondroitin-6-sulfate, and collagen I and II. Both approaches revealed a number of morphological features shared by micromass and cartilage chondrocytes. In particular, in micromasses, chondrocytes are in close contact with an organized extracellular matrix that adequately mimics that of cartilage. Cells were observed to establish specialized junctions for cell-extracellular matrix crosstalk. Noteworthy, cells seem endowed in a chondroitin sulfate-rich microenvironment, and thus possibly ensuring the immobilization of chemokines, a family of molecules emerging in osteoarthritis pathogenesis, in a haptotactic-like gradient to the chondrocytes, which facilitates the binding to their receptors. To determine the suitability of this model to investigate osteoarthritis pathogenesis, a potential apoptotic stimulus (endothelial IL-8) was used, and ultrastructural analysis assessed apoptosis induction. Micromass cultures were proved to be an experimental technique providing a large number of properly differentiated chondrocytes, and thus allowing reliable biochemical and morphological studies. They represent, therefore, a novel approach to osteoarthritis investigation that promises more thorough understanding of chondrocyte physiology in osteoarthritis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-295
Number of pages10
JournalMicroscopy Research and Technique
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Aug 15 2005


  • Chondrocytes
  • Differentiation
  • Electron microscopy
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Immunofluorescence
  • Micromass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Anatomy
  • Instrumentation


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