Chondrocytes in dense suspension culture in agarose survive in serum-free DME because they secrete low molecular mass compounds supporting their own viability. This activity can be replaced by pyruvate, or sulfhydryl compounds, e.g., cysteine or dithioerythritol. Catalase, an enzyme decomposing H2O2, also protects the cells, whereas superoxide dismutase has no effect. Therefore, chondrocytes in culture are sensitive to toxic compounds derived from molecular oxygen, i.e., hydroxyl radicals or hydrogen peroxide spontaneously generated in DME containing ascorbate and ferrous ions. Poly-ADP-ribosylation is an important step in the cascade of events triggered by these compounds. To survive, chondrocytes do not require stimulation by growth factors. They remain resting cells in fully defined, serum-free culture also at low density. Proliferation and hypertrophy can be induced by serum, but not by low cell density alone.

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