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Methods Mol Biol. 2008;433:333-54. doi: 10.1007/978-1-59745-237-3_20.

Retroviral-mediated gene therapy for the differentiation of primary cells into a mineralizing osteoblastic phenotype.

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  • 1Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.


Bone tissue engineering has emerged as a promising strategy for the repair of critical-sized skeletal fractures. However, the clinical application of this approach has been limited by the availability of a robust mineralizing cell source. Non-osteogenic cells, such as skin fibroblasts, are an attractive cell-source alternative because they are easy to harvest from autologous donor skin biopsies and display a high capacity for in vitro expansion. We have recently demonstrated that retroviral gene delivery of the osteoblastic transcription factor Runx2/Cbfa1 promotes osteogenic differentiation in primary dermal fibroblasts cultured in monolayer. Notably, sustained expression of Runx2 was not sufficient to promote functional osteogenesis in these cells, and co-treatment with the steroid hormone dexamethasone was required to induce deposition of biologically-equivalent matrix mineralization. On the basis of these results, we then investigated the osteogenic capacity of these genetically engineered fibroblasts when seeded on polymeric scaffolds in vitro and in vivo. These experiments demonstrated that Runx2-expressing fibroblasts seeded on collagen scaffolds produce significant levels of matrix mineralization after 28 days in vivo implantation in a subcutaneous, heterotopic site. Overall, these results offer evidence that transcription factor-based gene therapy may be a powerful strategy for the conversion of a non-osteogenic cellular phenotype into a mineralizing cell source for bone repair applications. This concept may also be applied to control functional differentiation in a broad range of cell types and tissue engineering applications. The chapter below outlines detailed methods for the isolation and ex vivo genetic modification of primary dermal fibroblasts using retroviral-mediated delivery of the Runx2 transgene in both monolayer culture and three-dimensional scaffolds.

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