Bone marrow derived mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSC) contribute to skeletal tissue formation and the regulation of haematopoiesis. The Eph/ephrin family of receptor tyrosine kinases is potentially important in the maintenance of the stem cell niche within neural, intestinal and dental tissues and has recently been shown to play a role in regulating bone homeostasis. However, the contribution of EphB/ephrin-B molecules in human MSC function remains to be determined. In the present study, EphB and ephrin-B molecules were expressed by ex vivo expanded human MSC populations and within human bone marrow trephine samples. To elucidate the contribution of EphB/ephrin-B molecules in MSC recruitment, we performed functional spreading and migration assays and showed that reverse ephrin-B signalling inhibited MSC attachment and spreading by activating Src-, PI3Kinase- and JNK-dependent signalling pathways. In contrast, forward EphB2 signalling promoted MSC migration by activating the Src kinase- and Abl-dependent signalling pathways. Furthermore, activation of ephrin-B1 and/or ephrin-B2 molecules expressed by MSC was found to increase osteogenic differentiation, while ephrin-B1 activation promoted chondrogenic differentiation. These observations suggest that EphB/ephrin-B interactions may mediate the recruitment, migration and differentiation of MSC during bone repair.
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