Fickert, S., Schröter-Bobsin, U., Groß, A. et al. J Bone Miner Metab (2011) 29: 224. doi:10.1007/s00774-010-0215-y
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are of major clinical interest for the development of cell-based strategies to treat musculoskeletal diseases including critical-size bone defects caused by trauma, degenerative disorders, or infections. Elderly people mainly suffer from critical-size bone defects from the rising incidence of trauma, osteoporosis, and arthroplasties. In this study we investigated the influence of donor age on proliferation and osteogenic differentiation in long-term ex vivo cultures of primary human MSCs from patients in different age groups. Fifteen patients (8 men/7 women) comprised three age groups: (I) <50 years, (II) 50–65 years, and (III) >65 years. MSCs harvested from bone marrow derived from routine surgical procedures were isolated and cultured in standard medium over eight passages. Osteogenic differentiation was induced by dexamethasone (10 nM), ascorbic acid (300 μM), and β-glycerophosphate (3.5 mM). Osteogenic differentiation capacity of MSCs was quantified by alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity, fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) analysis of the surface markers CD9, CD90, CD54, CD166, CD105, CD44, and CD73, and RT-PCR for Coll I and II, Cbfa 1, ALP, OC, BSP1, and GAPDH genes characterized the phenotypic changes during monolayer expansion. In vitro chondrogenic differentiation was analyzed by immunohistochemistry and RT-PCR. Progenitor cells could be expanded in the long term from all bone marrow donations. FACS single staining analysis from MSCs showed no significant difference between the age groups. The surface antigen CD166 was predominantly found in all cell cultures independently of differentiation stage. Comparison of expanded and differentiated MSCs within a single age group showed that undifferentiated MSCs had higher CD44 levels. Osteogenic stimulation of MSCs was confirmed by measuring ALP activity. The highest ALP activity was found in probands of the age group >65 years. Additionally, we observed a tendency toward male-specific ALP increase during differentiation. Osteogenic marker gene expression in MSCs was detected by RT-PCR. No significant expression differences were detected between the three donor age groups. Micromass culture of MSCs resulted histologically and immunohistologically in a chondrogenic phenotype. Elderly osteoprogenitor cell donors are a highly clinically relevant patient population. In summary, cultivation leads to a reduced osteogenic differentiation capacity regardless of age. Because donor age does not affect osteogenic differentiation potential, it should not be used as an exclusion criterion for autologous transplantation of human adult MSCs.