Although calcium phosphate-containing biomaterials are promising scaffolds for bone regenerative strategies, the osteoinductive capacity of such materials is poorly understood. In this study, we investigated whether endogenous mechanisms of in vivo calcium phosphate-driven, ectopic bone formation could be identified and used to induce enhanced differentiation in vitro of the same progenitor population. To accomplish this, human periosteum derived cells (hPDCs) were seeded on hydroxyapatite/collagen scaffolds (calcium phosphate rich matrix or CPRM), or on decalcified scaffolds (calcium phosphate depleted matrix or CPDM), followed by subcutaneous implantation in nude mice to trigger ectopic bone formation. In this system, osteoblast differentiation occurred in CPRM scaffolds, but not in CPDM scaffolds. Gene expression was assessed by human full-genome microarray at 20 h after seeding, and 2, 8 and 18 days after implantation. In both matrices, implantation of the cell constructs triggered a similar gene expression cascade, however, gene expression dynamics progressed faster in CPRM scaffolds than in CPDM scaffolds. The difference in gene expression dynamics was associated with differential activation of hub genes and molecular signaling pathways related to calcium signaling (CREB), inflammation (TNFα, NFkB, and IL6) and bone development (TGFβ, β-catenin, BMP, EGF, and ERK signaling). Starting from this set of pathways, a growth factor cocktail was developed that robustly enhanced osteogenesis in vitro and in vivo. Taken together, our data demonstrate that through the identification and subsequent stimulation of genes, proteins and signaling pathways associated with calcium phosphate mediated osteoinduction, a focused approach to develop targeted differentiation protocols in adult progenitor cells can be achieved.
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