Human mesenchymal stem/stromal cells cultured as spheroids are self-activated to produce prostaglandin E2 that directs stimulated macrophages into an anti-inflammatory phenotype

Stem Cells. 2012 Oct;30(10):2283-96. doi: 10.1002/stem.1191.


Culturing cells in three dimension (3D) provides an insight into their characteristics in vivo. We previously reported that human mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (hMSCs) cultured as 3D spheroids acquire enhanced anti-inflammatory properties. Here, we explored the effects of hMSC spheroids on macrophages that are critical cells in the regulation of inflammation. Conditioned medium (CM) from hMSC spheroids inhibited lipopolysaccharide-stimulated macrophages from secreting proinflammatory cytokines TNFα, CXCL2, IL6, IL12p40, and IL23. CM also increased the secretion of anti-inflammatory cytokines IL10 and IL1ra by the stimulated macrophages, and augmented expression of CD206, a marker of alternatively activated M2 macrophages. The principal anti-inflammatory activity in CM had a small molecular weight, and microarray data suggested that it was prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). This was confirmed by the observations that PGE2 levels were markedly elevated in hMSC spheroid-CM, and that the anti-inflammatory activity was abolished by an inhibitor of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), a silencing RNA for COX-2, and an antibody to PGE2. The anti-inflammatory effects of the PGE2 on stimulated macrophages were mediated by the EP4 receptor. Spheroids formed by human adult dermal fibroblasts produced low levels of PGE2 and displayed negligible anti-inflammatory effects on stimulated macrophages, suggesting the features as unique to hMSCs. Moreover, production of PGE2 by hMSC spheroids was dependent on the activity of caspases and NFκB activation in the hMSCs. The results indicated that hMSCs in 3D-spheroid cultures are self-activated, in part by intracellular stress responses, to produce PGE2 that can change stimulated macrophages from a primarily proinflammatory M1 phenotype to a more anti-inflammatory M2 phenotype.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies / pharmacology
  • Caspases / genetics
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 / genetics
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 / metabolism
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis*
  • Dinoprostone / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Dinoprostone / isolation & purification
  • Dinoprostone / pharmacology*
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Lectins, C-Type / genetics
  • Lectins, C-Type / metabolism
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Macrophage Activation / drug effects
  • Macrophages / drug effects*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Mannose-Binding Lectins / genetics
  • Mannose-Binding Lectins / metabolism
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / cytology
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism
  • NF-kappa B / genetics
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / genetics
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Receptors, Prostaglandin E, EP4 Subtype / genetics
  • Receptors, Prostaglandin E, EP4 Subtype / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Spheroids, Cellular / cytology
  • Spheroids, Cellular / drug effects*
  • Spheroids, Cellular / metabolism


  • Antibodies
  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors
  • Cytokines
  • Lectins, C-Type
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Mannose-Binding Lectins
  • NF-kappa B
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, Prostaglandin E, EP4 Subtype
  • mannose receptor
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • PTGS2 protein, human
  • Caspases
  • Dinoprostone