Isolation and characterization of 2 new human rotator cuff and long head of biceps tendon cells possessing stem cell-like self-renewal and multipotential differentiation capacity

Am J Sports Med. 2013 Jul;41(7):1653-64. doi: 10.1177/0363546512473572. Epub 2013 Feb 7.


Background: Stem cell therapy is expected to offer new alternatives to the traditional therapies of rotator cuff tendon tears. In particular, resident, tissue-specific, adult stem cells seem to have a higher regenerative potential for the tissue where they reside.

Hypothesis: Rotator cuff tendon and long head of the biceps tendon possess a resident stem cell population that, when properly stimulated, may be induced to proliferate, thus being potentially usable for tendon regeneration.

Study design: Controlled laboratory study.

Methods: Human tendon samples from the supraspinatus and the long head of the biceps were collected during rotator cuff tendon surgeries from 26 patients, washed with phosphate-buffered saline, cut into small pieces, and digested with collagenase type I and dispase. After centrifugation, cell pellets were resuspended in appropriate culture medium and plated. Adherent cells were cultured, phenotypically characterized, and then compared with human bone marrow stromal cells (BMSCs), as an example of adult stem cells, and human dermal fibroblasts, as normal proliferating cells with no stem cell properties.

Results: Two new adult stem cell populations from the supraspinatus and long head of the biceps tendons were isolated, characterized, and cultured in vitro. Cells showed adult stem cell characteristics (ie, they were self-renewing in vitro, clonogenic, and multipotent), as they could be induced to differentiate into different cell types--namely, osteoblasts, adipocytes, and skeletal muscle cells.

Conclusion: This work demonstrated that human rotator cuff tendon stem cells and human long head of the biceps tendon stem cells can be isolated and possess a high regenerative potential, which is comparable with that of BMSCs. Moreover, comparative analysis of the sphingolipid pattern of isolated cells with that of BMSCs and fibroblasts revealed the possibility of using this class of lipids as new possible markers of the cell differentiation status.

Clinical relevance: Rotator cuff and long head of the biceps tendons contain a stem cell population that can proliferate in vitro and could constitute an easily accessible stem cell source to develop novel therapies for tendon regeneration.

Keywords: regenerative medicine; rotator cuff tendon; sphingolipids; stem cells.

MeSH terms

  • Adult Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Adult Stem Cells / physiology
  • Aged
  • Cell Differentiation* / physiology
  • Extracellular Matrix / physiology
  • Female
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multipotent Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Multipotent Stem Cells / physiology
  • Rotator Cuff / cytology*
  • Sphingolipids / physiology


  • Sphingolipids