Objective: To regenerate permanent cartilage, it is crucial to know not only the necessary conditions for chondrogenesis, but also the sufficient conditions. The objective of this study was to determine the signal sufficient for chondrogenesis.
Methods: Embryonic stem cells that had been engineered to fluoresce upon chondrocyte differentiation were treated with combinations of factors necessary for chondrogenesis, and chondrocyte differentiation was detected as fluorescence. We screened for the combination that could induce fluorescence within 3 days. Then, primary mesenchymal stem cells, nonchondrogenic immortalized cell lines, and primary dermal fibroblasts were treated with the combination, and the induction of chondrocyte differentiation was assessed by detecting the expression of the cartilage marker genes and the accumulation of proteoglycan-rich matrix. The effects of monolayer, spheroid, and 3-dimensional culture systems on induction by combinations of transcription factors were compared. The effects of the combination on hypertrophic and osteoblastic differentiation were evaluated by detecting the expression of the characteristic marker genes.
Results: No single factor induced fluorescence. Among various combinations examined, only the SOX5, SOX6, and SOX9 combination (the SOX trio) induced fluorescence within 3 days. The SOX trio successfully induced chondrocyte differentiation in all cell types tested, including nonchondrogenic types, and the induction occurred regardless of the culture system used. Contrary to the conventional chondrogenic techniques, the SOX trio suppressed hypertrophic and osteogenic differentiation at the same time.
Conclusion: These data strongly suggest that the SOX trio provides signals sufficient for the induction of permanent cartilage.