Cartilage engineering is a new strategy for the treatment of cartilage damage due to osteoarthritis or trauma in humans. Racehorses are exposed to the same type of cartilage damage and the anatomical, cellular, and biochemical properties of their cartilage are comparable to those of human cartilage, making the horse an excellent model for the development of cartilage engineering. Human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) differentiated into chondrocytes with chondrogenic factors in a biomaterial appears to be a promising therapeutic approach for direct implantation and cartilage repair. Here, we characterized equine umbilical cord blood-derived MSCs (eUCB-MSCs) and evaluated their potential for chondrocyte differentiation for use in cartilage repair therapy. Our results show that isolated eUCB-MSCs had high proliferative capacity and differentiated easily into osteoblasts and chondrocytes, but not into adipocytes. A three-dimensional (3D) culture approach with the chondrogenic factors BMP-2 and TGF-β1 potentiated chondrogenic differentiation with a significant increase in cartilage-specific markers at the mRNA level (Col2a1, Acan, Snorc) and the protein level (type II and IIB collagen) without an increase in hypertrophic chondrocyte markers (Col10a1 and Mmp13) in normoxia and in hypoxia. However, these chondrogenic factors caused an increase in type I collagen, which can be reduced using small interfering RNA targeting Col1a2. This study provides robust data on MSCs characterization and demonstrates that eUCB-MSCs have a great potential for cartilage tissue engineering.
Keywords: RNA interference; cartilage engineering; chondrogenesis; extracellular matrix; horse; mesenchymal stem cells; umbilical cord blood.