Numerous gene products have the potential to help protect cartilage from degradation and to repair cartilage that has become damaged as a result of disease or injury. The genes that encode these products thus may serve as chondroprotective and chondroregenerative medicines. To bring these agents into clinical use, it is necessary to screen candidate genes for efficacy under in vitro and in vivo conditions, to determine the best cells to target, and to develop appropriate gene transfer technologies. As discussed in the current review, progress has been made in each of these areas. Various viral and nonviral vectors are able to deliver genes to synoviocytes, articular chondrocytes, and mesenchymal stem cells. There also is evidence to suggest that ex vivo and in vivo approaches can be used for gene transfer to articular cartilage, synovium, and meniscus. Moreover various cytokine antagonists and growth factors have been shown to protect cartilage and stimulate chondrogenesis. In vivo methods and strategies that target synovium may be useful in a chondroprotective mode but because they do not increase the number of chondrogenic cells within lesions, they may be ill-equipped to repair large defects. Ex vivo methods however, provide cells and genes. It also is important to distinguish the treatment of isolated lesions occurring as a result of injury from the treatment of lesions resulting from underlying disease processes. Additional development of these approaches should result in clinically useful genetic methods for the protection and regeneration of cartilagenous tissues.

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