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Eur Cell Mater. 2011 Jun 20;21:533-47.

Role of hypoxia and growth and differentiation factor-5 on differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells towards intervertebral nucleus pulposus-like cells.

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  • 1AO Research Institute Davos, Clavadelerstrasse, Switzerland.


There is evidence that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can differentiate towards an intervertebral disc (IVD)-like phenotype. We compared the standard chondrogenic protocol using transforming growth factor beta-1 (TGFß) to the effects of hypoxia, growth and differentiation factor-5 (GDF5), and coculture with bovine nucleus pulposus cells (bNPC). The efficacy of molecules recently discovered as possible nucleus pulposus (NP) markers to differentiate between chondrogenic and IVD-like differentiation was evaluated. MSCs were isolated from human bone marrow and encapsulated in alginate beads. Beads were cultured in DMEM (control) supplemented with TGFß or GDF5 or under indirect coculture with bNPC. All groups were incubated at low (2 %) or normal (20 %) oxygen tension for 28 days. Hypoxia increased aggrecan and collagen II gene expression in all groups. The hypoxic GDF5 and TGFß groups demonstrated most increased aggrecan and collagen II mRNA levels and glycosaminoglycan accumulation. Collagen I and X were most up-regulated in the TGFß groups. From the NP markers, cytokeratin-19 was expressed to highest extent in the hypoxic GDF5 groups; lowest expression was observed in the TGFß group. Levels of forkhead box F1 were down-regulated by TGFß and up-regulated by coculture with bNPC. Carbonic anhydrase 12 was also down-regulated in the TGFß group and showed highest expression in the GDF5 group cocultured with bNPC under hypoxia. Trends in gene expression regulation were confirmed on the protein level using immunohistochemistry. We conclude that hypoxia and GDF5 may be suitable for directing MSCs towards the IVD-like phenotype.

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