Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a potential source of chondrogenic cells for the treatment of cartilage disorders, but loss of chondrogenic potential during in vitro expansion and the propensity of cartilage to undergo hypertrophic maturation impede their therapeutic application. Here we report that the signaling protein WNT3A, in combination with FGF2, supports long-term expansion of human bone marrow-derived MSCs. The cells retained their chondrogenic potential and other phenotypic and functional properties of multipotent MSCs, which were gradually lost in the absence of WNT3A. Moreover, we discovered that endogenous WNT signals are the main drivers of the hypertrophic maturation that follows chondrogenic differentiation. Inhibition of WNT signals during differentiation prevented calcification and maintained cartilage properties following implantation in a mouse model. By maintaining potency during expansion and preventing hypertrophic maturation following differentiation, the modulation of WNT signaling removes two major obstacles that impede the clinical application of MSCs in cartilage repair.

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Journal Stem Cell Reports
Grant This work was funded by the European Commission 7th Framework Programme; grant id fp7/256560 - The Molecular Mechanisms of Stem Cell Self Renewal (MMSR)
Narcisi, R, Cleary, M.A, Brama, P.A.J, Hoogduijn, M.J, Tüysüz, N, ten Berge, D, & van Osch, G.J.V.M. (2015). Long-term expansion, enhanced chondrogenic potential, and suppression of endochondral ossification of adult human MSCs via WNT signaling modulation. Stem Cell Reports, 4(3), 459–472. doi:10.1016/j.stemcr.2015.01.017