Ex vivo culture systems cover a broad range of experiments dedicated to studying tissue and cellular function in a native setting. Cartilage is a unique tissue important for proper function of the synovial joint and is constituted by a dense extracellular matrix (ECM), rich in proteoglycan and type II collagen. Chondrocytes are the only cell type present within cartilage and are widespread and relatively low in number. Altered external stimuli and cellular signalling can lead to changes in ECM composition and deterioration, which are important pathological hallmarks in diseases such as osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis. Ex vivo cartilage models allow 1) profiling of chondrocyte mediated alterations of cartilage tissue turnover, 2) visualizing the cartilage ECM composition, and 3) chondrocyte rearrangement directly in the tissue. Profiling these alterations in response to stimuli or treatments are of high importance in various aspects of cartilage biology, and complement in vitro experiments in isolated chondrocytes, or more complex models in live animals where experimental conditions are more difficult to control. Cartilage explants present a translational and easily accessible method for assessing tissue remodeling in the cartilage ECM in controllable settings. Here, we describe a protocol for isolating and culturing live bovine cartilage explants. The method uses tissue from the bovine knee, which is easily accessible from the local butchery. Both explants and conditioned culture medium can be analyzed to investigate tissue turnover, ECM composition, and chondrocyte function, thus profiling ECM modulation.
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