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Stem Cell Rev. 2012 Jun;8(2):318-28. doi: 10.1007/s12015-011-9315-x.

Mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEF) exhibit a similar but not identical phenotype to bone marrow stromal stem cells (BMSC).

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Endocrine Research Laboratory, KMEB, Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Odense University Hospital & University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark.


Mouse embryonic fibroblasts have been utilized as a surrogate stem cell model for the postnatal bone marrow-derived stromal stem cells (BMSC) to study mesoderm-type cell differentiation e.g. osteoblasts, adipocytes and chondrocytes. However, no formal characterization of MEF phenotype has been reported. Utilizing standard in vitro and in vivo assays we performed a side-by-side comparison of MEF and BMSC to determine their ability to differentiate into mesoderm-type cells. BMSC were isolated from 8-10 weeks old mouse bone marrow by plastic adherence. MEF were established by trypsin/EDTA digestion from E13.5 embryos after removing heads and viscera, followed by plastic adherence. Compared to BMSC, MEF exhibited telomerase activity and improved cell proliferation as assessed by q-PCR based TRAP assay and cell number quantification, respectively. FACS analysis revealed that MEF exhibited surface markers characteristic of the BMSC: Sca-1(+), CD73(+), CD105(+), CD29(+), CD44(+), CD106(+), CD11b(-), and CD45(-). In contrast to BMSC, ex vivo osteoblast (OB) differentiation of MEF exhibited a less mature osteoblastic phenotype (less alkaline phosphatase, collagen type I and osteocalcin) as assessed by real-time PCR analysis. Compared to BMSC, MEF exhibited a more enhanced differentiation into adipocyte and chondrocyte lineages. Interestingly, both MEF and BMSC formed the same amount of heterotopic bone and bone marrow elements upon in vivo subcutaneous implantation with hydroxyapatite/tricalcium phosphate, in immune deficient mice. In conclusion, MEF contain a population of stem cells that behave in ex vivo and in vivo assays, similar but not identical, to BMSC. Due to their enhanced cell growth, they may represent a good alternative for BMSC in studying molecular mechanisms of stem cell commitment and differentiation to osteoblasts, adipocytes and chondrocytes.

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