The knee meniscus contains a mixed population of cells that exhibit fibroblastic as well as chondrocytic characteristics. Tissue engineering studies and future therapies for the meniscus require a large population of cells that are seeded on scaffolds. To achieve this, monolayer expansion is often used as a technique to increase cell number. However, the phenotype of these cells may be significantly different from that of the primary population. The objective of this study was to investigate changes in meniscal fibrochondrocytes at the gene expression level over four passages using quantitative real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction. Cells from the inner two-thirds of bovine medial menisci were used. Four extracellular matrix (ECM) molecules, commonly found in the meniscus, were investigated, namely collagen I, collagen II, aggrecan and cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP). In addition, primary and passaged meniscus fibrochondrocytes were placed on surfaces coated with collagen I or aggrecan protein to investigate whether any gene expression changes resulting from passage could be reversed. Collagen I expression was found to increase with the number of passages, whereas collagen II and COMP expression decreased. Collagen I and aggrecan surface coatings were shown to downregulate and upregulate collagen I and COMP expression levels, respectively, in passaged cells. However, decreases in collagen II expression could not be reversed by either protein coating. These results indicate that although monolayer expansion results in significant changes in gene expression in meniscal fibrochondrocytes, protein coatings may be used to regain the primary cell expression of several ECM molecules. © 2007 Gunja and Athanasiou; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.