Background: Electrical stimulation (ES) has a long history of successful use in the clinical treatment of refractory, non-healing bone fractures and has recently been proposed as an adjunct to bone tissue-engineering treatments to optimize their therapeutic potential. This idea emerged from ES's demonstrated positive effects on stem cell migration, proliferation, differentiation and adherence to scaffolds, all cell behaviors recognized to be advantageous in Bone Tissue Engineering (BTE). In previous in vitro experiments we demonstrated that direct current ES, administered daily, accelerates Mesenchymal Stem Cell (MSC) osteogenic differentiation. In the present study, we sought to define the optimal ES regimen for maximizing this pro-osteogenic effect.
Methods: Rat bone marrow-derived MSC were exposed to 100 mV/mm, 1 hr/day for three, seven, and 14 days, then osteogenic differentiation was assessed at Day 14 of culture by measuring collagen production, calcium deposition, alkaline phosphatase activity and osteogenic marker gene expression.
Results: We found that exposing MSC to ES for three days had minimal effect, while seven and 14 days resulted in increased osteogenic differentiation, as indicated by significant increases in collagen and calcium deposits, and expression of osteogenic marker genes Col1a1, Osteopontin, Osterix and Calmodulin. We also found that cells treated with ES for seven days, maintained this pro-osteogenic activity long (for at least seven days) after discontinuing ES exposure.
Discussion: This study showed that while three days of ES is insufficient to solicit pro-osteogenic effects, seven and 14 days significantly increases osteogenic differentiation. Importantly, we found that cells treated with ES for only seven days, maintained this pro-osteogenic activity long after discontinuing ES exposure. This sustained positive osteogenic effect is likely due to the enhanced expression of RunX2 and Calmodulin we observed. This prolonged positive osteogenic effect, long after discontinuing ES treatment, if incorporated into BTE treatment protocols, could potentially improve outcomes and in doing so help BTE achieve its full therapeutic potential.
Keywords: Bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells; Bone tissue engineering; Direct current electrical stimulation; Osteogenic differentiation.