Objective—To determine the critical temperature that reduces chondrocyte viability and evaluate the ability of chondrocytes to recover after exposure to the critical temperature.
Sample Population—Cartilage explants obtained from the humeral heads of 30 sheep.
Procedures—In a randomized block design, 318 full-thickness cartilage explants were collected from 30 humeral heads of sheep and cultured for up to 14 days. On the first day of culture (day 0), explants were subjected to temperatures of 37°, 45°, 50°, 55°, 60°, or 65°C for 5 minutes by heating culture tubes in a warming block. The ability for chondrocytes to recover after exposure to the critical temperature was determined by evaluating viability at days 0, 1, 3, 7, and 14 days after heating. Images were analyzed by use of confocal laser microscopy.
Results—Analysis of images revealed a significant decrease in live cells and a significant increase in dead cells as temperature increased. Additionally, the deepest layer of cartilage had a significantly lower percentage of live cells, compared with values for the 3 most superficial layers. Chondrocytes did have some ability to recover temporarily after the initial thermal insult.
Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—A strong relationship exists between increasing temperature and cell death, with a sharp increase in chondrocyte death between 50° and 55°C. Chondrocytes in the deepest cartilage layer are most susceptible to thermal injury. The threshold of chondrocyte recovery from thermal injury is much lower than temperatures reached during chondroplasty by use of most radiofrequency energy devices.