Animal serum-free expansion and differentiation of human mesenchymal stromal cells

Author(s): Felka T, Schafer R, De Zwart P,Aicher WK


Background aims: Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC) are attracting increasing interest for possible application in cell therapies. Fetal calf serum (FCS) is widely utilized for cell culture, but its use in the context of clinical applications is associated with too many risks. Therefore we tested FCS-free media for the expansion and differentiation of MSC in compliance with the European good manufacturing practice (GMP) regulations for medicinal products.

Methods: MSC expansion medium was modified by replacing FCS with human plasma and platelet extract. Cells were characterized according to the defined minimal criteria for multipotent MSC. For chondrogenic differentiation, serum-free micromass cultures were employed. For adipogenic and osteogenic differentiation, the FCS was replaced by human plasma. After 28 days of incubation in differentiation media, cells were analyzed by cytochemical and immunohistochemical staining. Furthermore, mRNA expression of chondrogenic, adipogenic and osteogenic markers was investigated by quantitative reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR).

Results: Expansion and differentiation of MSC under FCS-free conditions yielded cells with chondrogenic, adipogenic and osteogenic phenotypes and a characteristic gene expression. Chondrocytes in micromass pellets revealed an accumulation of proteoglycans and type II collagen as well as a significantly increased mRNA expression of chondrogenic marker genes. The adipocytes displayed Oil red O staining and expressed peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma(2) (ppARgamma2) and lipoprotein lipase (LPL) mRNA. The osteoblasts were positive for von Kossa staining and expressed mRNA of osteogenic marker genes. The results did not indicate any spontaneous differentiation.

Conclusions: Human plasma is a suitable FCS replacement for the expansion and differentiation of MSC, providing a feasible alternative for tissue engineering with GMP-compatible protocols.

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