Adult human bone marrow-derived multipotent progenitor cells (MPCs) are able to differentiate into a variety of specialized cell types, including chondrocytes, and are considered a promising candidate cell source for use in cartilage tissue engineering. In this study, we examined the regulation of MPC chondrogenesis by mitogen-activated protein kinases in an attempt to better understand how to generate hyaline cartilage in the laboratory that more closely resembles native tissue. Specifically, we employed the high-density pellet culture model system to assess the roles of ERK5 and ERK1/2 pathway signaling in MPC chondrogenesis. Western blotting revealed that high levels of ERK5 phosphorylation correlate with low levels of MPC chondrogenesis and that as TGF-beta 3-enhanced MPC chondrogenesis proceeds, phospho-ERK5 levels steadily decline. Conversely, levels of phospho-ERK1/2 paralleled the progression of MPC chondrogenesis. siRNA-mediated knockdown of ERK5 pathway components MEK5 and ERK5 resulted in increased MPC pellet mRNA transcript levels of the cartilage-characteristic marker genes SOX9, COL2A1, AGC, L-SOX5, and SOX6, as well as enhanced accumulation of SOX9 protein, collagen type II protein, and Alcian blue-stainable proteoglycan. In contrast, knockdown of ERK1/2 pathway members MEK1 and ERK1 decreased expression of all chondrogenic markers tested. Finally, overexpression of MEK5 and ERK5 also depressed MPC chondrogenesis, as indicated by diminished activity of a co-transfected collagen II promoter-luciferase reporter construct. In conclusion, our results suggest a novel role for the ERK5 pathway as an important negative regulator of adult human MPC chondrogenesis and illustrate that the ERK5 and ERK1/2 kinase cascades play opposing roles regulating MPC cartilage formation.
(c) 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.