Background: For clinical applications of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), labeling and tracking is crucial to evaluate cell distribution and homing. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been successfully established detecting MSCs labeled with superparamagnetic particles of iron oxide (SPIO). Despite initial reports that labeling of MSCs with SPIO is safe without affecting the MSC's biology, recent studies report on influences of SPIO-labeling on metabolism and function of MSCs. Exposition of cells and tissues to high magnetic fields is the functional principle of MRI. In this study we established innovative labeling protocols for human MSCs using clinically established SPIO in combination with magnetic fields and investigated on functional effects (migration assays, quantification of colony forming units, analyses of gene and protein expression and analyses on the proliferation capacity, the viability and the differentiation potential) of magnetic fields on unlabeled and labeled human MSCs. To evaluate the imaging properties, quantification of the total iron load per cell (TIL), electron microscopy, and MRI at 3.0 T were performed.
Results: Human MSCs labeled with SPIO permanently exposed to magnetic fields arranged and grew according to the magnetic flux lines. Exposure of MSCs to magnetic fields after labeling with SPIO significantly enhanced the TIL compared to SPIO labeled MSCs without exposure to magnetic fields resulting in optimized imaging properties (detection limit: 1,000 MSCs). Concerning the TIL and the imaging properties, immediate exposition to magnetic fields after labeling was superior to exposition after 24 h. On functional level, exposition to magnetic fields inhibited the ability of colony formation of labeled MSCs and led to an enhanced expression of lipoprotein lipase and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma in labeled MSCs under adipogenic differentiation, and to a reduced expression of alkaline phosphatase in unlabeled MSCs under osteogenic differentiation as detected by qRT-PCR. Moreover, microarray analyses revealed that exposition of labeled MSCs to magnetic fields led to an up regulation of CD93 mRNA and cadherin 7 mRNA and to a down regulation of Zinc finger FYVE domain mRNA. Exposition of unlabeled MSCs to magnetic fields led to an up regulation of CD93 mRNA, lipocalin 6 mRNA, sialic acid acetylesterase mRNA, and olfactory receptor mRNA and to a down regulation of ubiquilin 1 mRNA. No influence of the exposition to magnetic fields could be observed on the migration capacity, the viability, the proliferation rate and the chondrogenic differentiation capacity of labeled or unlabeled MSCs.
Conclusions: In our study an innovative labeling protocol for tracking MSCs by MRI using SPIO in combination with magnetic fields was established. Both, SPIO and the static magnetic field were identified as independent factors which affect the functional biology of human MSCs. Further in vivo investigations are needed to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of the interaction of magnetic fields with stem cell biology.