Low level laser therapy promotes bone regeneration by coupling angiogenesis and osteogenesis

Stem Cell Res Ther. 2021 Aug 3;12(1):432. doi: 10.1186/s13287-021-02493-5.


Background: Bone tissue engineering is a new concept bringing hope for the repair of large bone defects, which remains a major clinical challenge. The formation of vascularized bone is key for bone tissue engineering. Growth of specialized blood vessels termed type H is associated with bone formation. In vivo and in vitro studies have shown that low level laser therapy (LLLT) promotes angiogenesis, fracture healing, and osteogenic differentiation of stem cells by increasing reactive oxygen species (ROS). However, whether LLLT can couple angiogenesis and osteogenesis, and the underlying mechanisms during bone formation, remains largely unknown.

Methods: Mouse bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (BMSCs) combined with biphasic calcium phosphate (BCP) grafts were implanted into C57BL/6 mice to evaluate the effects of LLLT on the specialized vessel subtypes and bone regeneration in vivo. Furthermore, human BMSCs and human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) were co-cultured in vitro. The effects of LLLT on cell proliferation, angiogenesis, and osteogenesis were assessed.

Results: LLLT promoted the formation of blood vessels, collagen fibers, and bone tissue and also increased CD31hiEMCNhi-expressing type H vessels in mBMSC/BCP grafts implanted in mice. LLLT significantly increased both osteogenesis and angiogenesis, as well as related gene expression (HIF-1α, VEGF, TGF-β) of grafts in vivo and of co-cultured BMSCs/HUVECs in vitro. An increase or decrease of ROS induced by H2O2 or Vitamin C, respectively, resulted in an increase or decrease of HIF-1α, and a subsequent increase and decrease of VEGF and TGF-β in the co-culture system. The ROS accumulation induced by LLLT in the co-culture system was significantly decreased when HIF-1α was inhibited with DMBPA and was followed by decreased expression of VEGF and TGF-β.

Conclusions: LLLT enhanced vascularized bone regeneration by coupling angiogenesis and osteogenesis. ROS/HIF-1α was necessary for these effects of LLLT. LLLT triggered a ROS-dependent increase of HIF-1α, VEGF, and TGF-β and resulted in subsequent formation of type H vessels and osteogenic differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells. As ROS also was a target of HIF-1α, there may be a positive feedback loop between ROS and HIF-1α, which further amplified HIF-1α induction via the LLLT-mediated ROS increase. This study provided new insight into the effects of LLLT on vascularization and bone regeneration in bone tissue engineering.

Keywords: Angiogenesis; Hypoxia-inducible factor 1α; Low level laser therapy; Osteogenesis; Reactive oxygen species; Type H vessels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Regeneration
  • Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit / genetics
  • Low-Level Light Therapy*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic
  • Osteogenesis*


  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Hydrogen Peroxide