Introduction: Human multipotent stromal cells (MSCs) isolated from bone marrow or other tissue sources have great potential to treat a wide range of injuries and disorders in the field of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. In particular, MSCs have inherent characteristics to suppress the immune system and are being studied in clinical studies to prevent graft-versus-host disease. MSCs can be expanded in vitro and have potential for differentiation into multiple cell lineages. However, the impact of cell passaging on gene expression and function of the cells has not been determined.
Methods: Commercially available human MSCs derived from bone marrow from six different donors, grown under identical culture conditions and harvested at cell passages 3, 5, and 7, were analyzed with gene-expression profiling by using microarray technology.
Results: The phenotype of these cells did not change as reported previously; however, a statistical analysis revealed a set of 78 significant genes that were distinguishable in expression between passages 3 and 7. None of these significant genes corresponded to the markers established by the International Society for Cellular Therapy (ISCT) for MSC identification. When the significant gene lists were analyzed through pathway analysis, these genes were involved in the top-scoring networks of cellular growth and proliferation and cellular development. A meta-analysis of the literature for significant genes revealed that the MSCs seem to be undergoing differentiation into a senescent cell type when cultured extensively. Consistent with the differences in gene expression at passage 3 and 7, MSCs exhibited a significantly greater potential for cell division at passage 3 in comparison to passage 7.
Conclusions: Our results identified specific gene markers that distinguish aging MSCs grown in cell culture. Confirmatory studies are needed to correlate these molecular markers with biologic attributes that may facilitate the development of assays to test the quality of MSCs before clinical use.