Expression of inflammatory cytokines in mesenchymal stromal cells is sensitive to culture conditions and simple cell manipulations

Exp Cell Res. 2019 Jan 1;374(1):122-127. doi: 10.1016/j.yexcr.2018.11.014. Epub 2018 Nov 26.


Background: Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) can be used in several clinical applications. While MSCs are frequently cultured in fetal bovine serum for in vitro experimentation, human serum supplements are required for cells to be used in patients. Here we show how different human serum supplements and in vitro manipulations used during the cell culture impact on MSC proliferation rate and expression of inflammatory molecules.

Methods: MSCs were cultured in medium supplemented with human plasma or serum combined with human platelet lysate (PL) and/or basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF2). Real time RT-PCR and western blot were used to assess expression of inflammatory cytokines.

Results: Serum with addition of FGF2 gave the fastest proliferation rate. However, serum with FGF2 also increased expression of genes encoding inflammatory cytokines. The most favorable expansion condition for chondrogenic differentiation and inhibition of cartilage matrix degrading enzymes was plasma supplemented with PL and FGF2. Detachment of cells using trypsin gave considerable upregulation of inflammatory cytokine mRNAs which lasted for up to 24 h, with concomitant increase in protein levels. Even the gentle act of changing medium led to upregulation of cytokine mRNA, caused by addition of fresh serum.

Discussion: Different culture conditions and simple cell manipulation influence proliferation rate and expression of inflammatory genes. Supplementing culture medium with allogeneic AB serum and FGF2 during monolayer expansion supported cell expansion better than other supplements, but also induced the highest levels of inflammatory cytokines and gave inferior results for chondrogenic differentiation. The importance of the composition of the culture medium and even gentle in vitro manipulation of the cells should be taken into account in the planning of procedures using in vitro expanded MSCs.

Keywords: Chondrogenesis; FGF2; Inflammation; MSCs; Serum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chondrogenesis
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism


  • Cytokines
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • RNA, Messenger