Primary chondrocytes from whole chick embryo sterna can be maintained in suspension culture stabilized with agarose for extended periods of time. In the absence of FBS, the cells remain viable only when seeded at high densities. They do not proliferate at a high rate but they deposit extracellular matrix with fibrils resembling those of authentic embryonic cartilage in their appearance and collagen composition. The cells exhibit many morphological and biochemical characteristics of resting chondrocytes and they do not produce collagen X, a marker for hypertrophic cartilage undergoing endochondral ossification. At low density, cells survive in culture without FBS when the media are conditioned by chondrocytes grown at high density. Thus, resting cartilage cells in agarose cultures can produce factors required for their own viability. Addition of FBS to the culture media leads to profound changes in the phenotype of chondrocytes seeded at low density. Cells form colonies at a high rate and assume properties of hypertrophic cells, including the synthesis of collagen X. They extensively deposit extracellular matrix resembling more closely that of adult rather than embryonic cartilage.

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