Embryonic stem cell-associated antigens are expressed in a variety of adult stem cells as well as embryonic stem cells. In the present study, we investigated whether stage-specific embryonic antigen (SSEA)-4 can be used to isolate dental pulp (DP) stem cells. DP cells showed plastic adherence, specific surface antigen expression, and multipotent differentiation potential, similar to mesenchymal stem cells (MSC). SSEA-4+ cells were found in cultured DP cells in vitro as well as in DP tissue in vivo. Flow cytometric analysis demonstrated that 45.5% of the DP cells were SSEA-4+. When the DP cells were cultured in the presence of all-trans-retinoic acid, marked downregulation of SSEA-3 and SSEA-4 and the upregulation of SSEA-1 were observed. SSEA-4+ DP cells showed a greater telomere length and a higher growth rate compared to ungated and SSEA-4- cells. A clonal assay demonstrated that 65.5% of the SSEA-4+ DP cells had osteogenic potential, and the SSEA-4+ clonal DP cells showed multilineage differentiation potential toward osteoblasts, chondrocytes, and neurons in vitro. In addition, the SSEA-4+ DP cells had the capacity to form ectopic bone in vivo. Thus, our results suggest that SSEA-4 is a specific cell surface antigen that can be used to identify DP stem cells.
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