Chemically defined serum-free medium has been shown to maintain the mechanical properties of cartilage allografts better than serum supplemented medium during long-term in vitro culture [1]. Little is known about this beneficial mechanism at a cellular level. Intracellular calcium ([Ca2+]i) signaling is one of the earliest responses in chondrocytes under mechanical stimulation [2]. It was recently found that calcium signaling is involved in the regulation of chondrocyte morphology changes and its short-term anabolic and catabolic responses under mechanical stimulation [3]. In this study we hypothesized that the beneficial mechanisms of serum-free culture could be indicated by the spatiotemporal features of [Ca2+]i signaling of chondrocytes in situ. We aimed to: (i) compare the in situ spontaneous [Ca2+]i responses of chondrocytes cultured in medium with and without serum; (ii) investigate the correlation between the [Ca2+]i responses of chondrocytes and the biomechanical properties of cartilage explants.

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