AbstractIn vitro cultured autologous chondrocytes can be used for implantation to support cartilage repair. For this purpose, a very small number of autologous cells harvested from a biopsy have to be expanded in monolayer culture. Commercially available polymer surfaces lead to chondrocyte dedifferentiation. Hence, the demanding need for optimized polymers and surface topologies supporting chondrocytes' differentiated phenotypes in vitro arises. In this study we explored the effect of tailored cell culture plate inserts prepared from polystyrene (PS) and polyether imide (PEI) exhibiting three different roughness levels (R0, RI, RII) on chondrocyte morphology, metabolism and gene expression profile. As a control, commercially available tissue culture plastic (TCP) dishes were included. Primary porcine articular chondrocytes were seeded on tailored PS and PEI inserts with three different roughness levels. The metabolic activity of the chondrocytes was determined after 24 hours using alamar blue assay. Chondrocyte gene expression profiles (aggrecan, type I and type II collagen) were monitored after 48 hours using Real Time Detection (RTD)-PCR. Chondrocytes cultured on PS and PEI surfaces formed cell clusters after 24 and 48 hours, which was not observed on TCP. The metabolic activity of chondrocytes cultured on PS was lower than of chondrocytes cultured on PEI, but also lower than on TCP. Gene expression analyses revealed an elevated expression of cartilage-specific aggrecan and an impaired expression of both collagen types by chondrocytes on PS and PEI compared with TCP. In summary, PEI is a biocompatible biomaterial suitable for chondrocyte culturing, which can be further chemically functionalized for generating specific surface interactions or covalent binding of biomolecules.