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Arthritis Rheum. 2008 May;58(5):1377-88. doi: 10.1002/art.23370.

Functional characterization of hypertrophy in chondrogenesis of human mesenchymal stem cells.

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National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, Bethesda 20892-8022, Maryland, USA.



Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are promising candidate cells for cartilage tissue engineering. Expression of cartilage hypertrophy markers (e.g., type X collagen) by MSCs undergoing chondrogenesis raises concern for a tissue engineering application for MSCs, because hypertrophy would result in apoptosis and ossification. To analyze the biologic basis of MSC hypertrophy, we examined the response of chondrifying MSCs to culture conditions known to influence chondrocyte hypertrophy, using an array of hypertrophy-associated markers.


Human MSC pellet cultures were predifferentiated for 2 weeks in a chondrogenic medium, and hypertrophy was induced by withdrawing transforming growth factor beta (TGFbeta), reducing the concentration of dexamethasone, and adding thyroid hormone (T3). Cultures were characterized by histologic, immunohistochemical, and biochemical methods, and gene expression was assessed using quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction.


The combination of TGFbeta withdrawal, a reduction in the level of dexamethasone, and the addition of T3 was essential for hypertrophy induction. Cytomorphologic changes were accompanied by increased alkaline phosphatase activity, matrix mineralization, and changes in various markers of hypertrophy, including type X collagen, fibroblast growth factor receptors 1-3, parathyroid hormone-related protein receptor, retinoic acid receptor gamma, matrix metalloproteinase 13, Indian hedgehog, osteocalcin, and the proapoptotic gene p53. However, hypertrophy was not induced uniformly throughout the pellet culture, and distinct regions of dedifferentiation were observed.


Chondrogenically differentiating MSCs behave in a manner functionally similar to that of growth plate chondrocytes, expressing a very similar hypertrophic phenotype. Under the in vitro culture conditions used here, MSC-derived chondrocytes underwent a differentiation program analogous to that observed during endochondral embryonic skeletal development, with the potential for terminal differentiation. This culture system is applicable for the screening of hypertrophy-inhibitory conditions and agents that may be useful to enhance MSC performance in cartilage tissue engineering.

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