Induction of intervertebral disc-like cells from adult mesenchymal stem cells

Eric Steck, Helge Bertram, Rainer Abel, Bohua Chen, Anja Winter, Wiltrud Richter
Stem Cells 2005, 23 (3): 403-11
The potential of adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to differentiate towards cartilage, bone, adipose tissue, or muscle is well established. However, the capacity of MSCs to differentiate towards intervertebral disc (IVD)-like cells is unknown. The aim of this study was to compare the molecular phenotype of human IVD cells and articular chondrocytes and to analyze whether mesenchymal stem cells can differentiate towards both cell types after transforming growth factor beta (TGF beta)-mediated induction in vitro. Bone marrow-derived MSCs were differentiated in spheroid culture towards the chondrogenic lineage in the presence of TGF beta(3) dexamethasone, and ascorbate. A customized cDNA-array comprising 45 cartilage-, bone-, and stem cell-relevant genes was used to quantify gene expression profiles. After TGF beta-mediated differentiation, MSC spheroids turned positive for collagen type II protein and expressed a large panel of genes characteristic for chondrocytes, including aggrecan, decorin, fibromodulin, and cartilage oligomeric matrix protein, although at levels closer to IVD tissue than to hyaline articular cartilage. Like IVD tissue, the spheroids were strongly positive for collagen type I and osteopontin. MSC spheroids expressed more differentiation markers at higher levels than culture-expanded IVD cells and chondrocytes, which both dedifferentiated in monolayer culture. In conclusion, mesenchymal stem cells adopted a gene expression profile that resembled native IVD tissue more closely than native joint cartilage. Thus, these cells may represent an attractive source from which to obtain IVD-like cells, whereas modification of culture conditions is required to approach the molecular phenotype of chondrocytes in hyaline cartilage.

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