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In Vitro Effects of Bupivacaine on the Viability and Mechanics of Native and Engineered Cartilage Grafts.



Although the toxic effects of bupivacaine on chondrocyte monolayer culture have been well described, its cellular and mechanical effects on native and engineered articular cartilage remain unclear. For the repair of articular cartilage defects, fresh autologous and allogenic cartilage grafts are commonly used, and engineered cell-based therapies are emerging. The outcome of grafting therapies aimed at repairing damaged cartilage relies largely on maintaining proper viability and mechanical suitability of the donor tissues.


To investigate the in vitro effects of single bupivacaine exposure on the viability and mechanics of 2 cartilage graft types: native articular cartilage and engineered neocartilage.

Study design

Controlled laboratory study.


Articular cartilage explants were harvested from the bovine stifle femoral condyles, and neocartilage constructs were engineered from bovine stifle chondrocytes using the self-assembling process, a scaffold-free approach to engineer cartilage tissue. Both explants and neocartilage were exposed to chondrogenic medium containing a clinically applicable bolus of 0.5%, 0.25%, or 0% (control) bupivacaine for 1 hour, followed by fresh medium wash and exchange. Cell viability and matrix content (collagen and glycosaminoglycan) were assessed at t = 24 hours after treatment, and compressive mechanical properties were assessed with creep indentation testing at t = 5 to 6 days after treatment.


Single bupivacaine exposure was chondrotoxic in both explants and neocartilage, with 0.5% bupivacaine causing a significant decrease in chondrocyte viability compared with the control condition (55.0% ± 13.4% vs 71.9% ± 13.5%; P < .001). Bupivacaine had no significant effect on matrix content for either tissue type. There was significant weakening of the mechanical properties in the neocartilage when treated with 0.5% bupivacaine compared with control, with decreased aggregate modulus (415.8 ± 155.1 vs 660.3 ± 145.8 kPa; P = .003), decreased shear modulus (143.2 ± 14.0 vs 266.5 ± 89.2 kPa; P = .002), and increased permeability (14.7 ± 8.1 vs 6.6 ± 1.7 × 10-15 m4/Ns; P = .009). Bupivacaine exposure did not have a significant effect on the mechanical properties of native cartilage explants.


Single bupivacaine exposure resulted in significant chondrotoxicity in native explants and neocartilage and significant weakening of mechanical properties of neocartilage. The presence of abundant extracellular matrix does not appear to confer any additional resistance to the toxic effects of bupivacaine.

Clinical relevance

Clinicians should be judicious regarding the use of intra-articular bupivacaine in the setting of articular cartilage repair.

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