Restored in vivo-like membrane lipidomics positively influence in vitro features of cultured mesenchymal stromal/stem cells derived from human placenta

Stem Cell Res Ther. 2017 Feb 7;8(1):31. doi: 10.1186/s13287-017-0487-4.


Background: The study of lipid metabolism in stem cell physiology has recently raised great interest. The role of lipids goes beyond the mere structural involvement in assembling extra- and intra-cellular compartments. Nevertheless, we are still far from understanding the impact of membrane lipidomics in stemness maintenance and differentiation patterns. In the last years, it has been reported how in vitro cell culturing can modify membrane lipidomics. The aim of the present work was to study the membrane fatty acid profile of mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) derived from human fetal membranes (hFM-MSCs) and to correlate this to specific biological properties by using chemically defined tailored lipid supplements (Refeed®).

Methods: Freshly isolated hFM-MSCs were characterized for their membrane fatty acid composition. hFM-MSCs were cultivated in vitro following a classical protocol and their membrane fatty acid profile at different passages was compared to the profile in vivo. A tailored Refeed® lipid supplement was developed with the aim of reducing the differences created by the in vitro cultivation and was tested on cultured hFM-MSCs. Cell morphology, viability, proliferation, angiogenic differentiation, and immunomodulatory properties after in vitro exposure to the tailored Refeed® lipid supplement were investigated.

Results: A significant modification of hFM-MSC membrane fatty acid composition occurred during in vitro culture. Using a tailored lipid supplement, the fatty acid composition of cultured cells remained more similar to their in vivo counterparts, being characterized by a higher polyunsaturated and omega-6 fatty acid content. These changes in membrane composition had no effect on cell morphology and viability, but were linked with increased cell proliferation rate, angiogenic differentiation, and immunomodulatory properties. In particular, Refeed®-supplemented hFM-MSCs showed greater ability to express fully functional cell membrane molecules.

Conclusions: Culturing hFM-MSCs alters their fatty acid composition. A tailored lipid supplement is able to improve in vitro hFM-MSC functional properties by recreating a membrane environment more similar to the physiological counterpart. This approach should be considered in cell therapy applications in order to maintain a higher cell quality during in vitro passaging and to influence the outcome of cell-based therapeutic approaches when cells are administered to patients.

Keywords: Membrane fatty acids; Membrane lipidomics; Mesenchymal stromal cells; Stem cells.

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Extraembryonic Membranes / cytology
  • Extraembryonic Membranes / drug effects
  • Extraembryonic Membranes / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / analysis
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated / analysis
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / analysis
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Membrane Lipids / analysis
  • Membrane Lipids / metabolism
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / cytology
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Placenta / cytology
  • Placenta / drug effects
  • Placenta / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Primary Cell Culture


  • Antioxidants
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Membrane Lipids