DNA Methylation-Based Regulation of Human Bone Marrow-Derived Mesenchymal Stem/Progenitor Cell Chondrogenic Differentiation

Cells Tissues Organs. 2019;207(3-4):115-126. doi: 10.1159/000502885. Epub 2019 Oct 1.


Stem cells have essential applications in in vitro tissue engineering or regenerative medicine. However, there is still a need to understand more deeply the mechanisms of stem cell differentiation and to optimize the methods to control stem cell function. In this study, we first investigated the activity of DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) during chondrogenic differentiation of human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem/progenitor cells (hBMSCs) and found that DNMT3A and DNMT3B were markedly upregulated during hBMSC chondrogenic differentiation. In an attempt to understand the effect of DNMT3A and DNMT3B on the chondrogenic differentiation of hBMSCs, we transiently transfected the cells with expression vectors for the two enzymes. Interestingly, DNMT3A overexpression strongly enhanced the chondrogenesis of hBMSCs, by increasing the gene expression of the mature chondrocyte marker, collagen type II, more than 200-fold. Analysis of the methylation condition in the cells revealed that DNMT3A and DNMT3B methylated the promoter sequence of early stem cell markers, NANOG and POU5F1(OCT-4). Conversely, the suppression of chondrogenic differentiation and the increase in stem cell markers of hBMSCs were obtained by chemical stimulation with the demethylating agent, 5-azacitidine. Loss-of-function assays with siRNAs targeting DNMT3A also significantly suppressed the chondrogenic differentiation of hBMSCs. Together, these results not only show the critical roles of DNMTs in regulating the chondrogenic differentiation of hBMSCs, but also suggest that manipulation of DNMT activity can be important tools to enhance the differentiation of hBMSCs towards chondrogenesis for potential application in cartilage tissue engineering or cartilage regeneration.

Keywords: 5-Azacitidine; DNA methylation; DNA methyltransferases; Mesenchymal stem cells; Stem cell differentiation; Tissue engineering of cartilage and bone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Chondrogenesis*
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / genetics
  • DNA Methylation*
  • DNA Methyltransferase 3A
  • DNA Methyltransferase 3B
  • Humans
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Up-Regulation


  • DNMT3A protein, human
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases
  • DNA Methyltransferase 3A