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Stem Cells Dev. 2007 Feb;16(1):39-52.

Bone matrix formation in osteogenic cultures derived from human embryonic stem cells in vitro.

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  • 1Center for Oral Biology, Institute of Odontology, Karolinska Institutet, SE-141 04 Stockholm, Sweden.


Bone matrix production and mineralization involves sophisticated mechanisms, including the initial formation of an organic extracellular matrix into which inorganic hydroxyapatite crystals are later deposited. Human embryonic stem (hES) cells offer a potential to study early developmental processes and provide an unlimited source of cells. In this study, four different hES cell lines were used, and two different approaches to differentiate hES cells into the osteogenic lineage were taken. Undifferentiated cells were cultured either in suspension, facilitating the formation of embryoid bodies (EBs), or in monolayer, and both methods were in the presence of osteogenic supplements. Novel to our osteogenic differentiation study was the use of commercially available human foreskin fibroblasts to support the undifferentiated growth of the hES cell colonies, and their propagation in serum replacement-containing medium. Characterization of the osteogenic phenotype revealed that all hES cell lines differentiated toward the mesenchymal lineage, because T-Brachyury, Flt-1, and bone morphogenetic protein-4 could be detected. Main osteoblastic marker genes Runx2, osterix, bone sialoprotein, and osteocalcin were up-regulated. Alizarin Red S staining demonstrated the formation of bone-like nodules, and bone sialoprotein and osteocalcin were localized to these foci by immunohistochemistry. Cells differentiated in monolayer conditions exhibited greater osteogenic potential compared to those from EB-derived cells. We conclude that in vitro hES cells can produce a mineralized matrix possessing all the major bone markers, the differentiation of pluripotent hES cells to an osteogenic lineage does not require initiation via EB formation, and that lineage potential is not dependent on the mode of differentiation induction but on a cell line itself.

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