Rheumatic diseases such as osteoarthritis (OA) are a major social and economic burden because of the population aging and the lack of curative solutions. An effective cell therapy may be the best treatment option for OA and other cartilage diseases. However, the main cellular strategy used to repair articular cartilage, the transplantation of autologous chondrocytes, is limited to a small number of patients with traumatic lesions. The use of joint replacement after years of disease progression proves the great medical need in current practice. Mesenchymal stromal/stem cells (MSCs) provide an alternative cell source for cartilage regeneration due to numerous advantages, comprising relative ease to isolate and culture, chondrogenic capacity, and antiinflammatory effects. Initial clinical trials with MSCs have led to encouraging results, but many variables have to be considered to attain true amelioration of disease or repair (type and status of cartilage disease, source and conditions of cells, administration regime, combinatorial approaches). Particularly, allogeneic MSCs are an advantageous cellular product. The animal models chosen for preclinical evaluation are also relevant for successful translation into clinical practice. Considering the limitations in the field, rigorous comparative and validating studies in well-established animal models (including large animals) are still needed to set up the bases for additional clinical trials. The present review of studies performed in small and large animal models should help clarify the applicability of MSC-based therapies for articular cartilage repair.
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